A few days ago, a video of a South Carolina cop manhandling and beating a female African-American high school student went viral on social media, prompting an explosion of outrage from liberals and rational-minded Americans who were disgusted with the cop’s reckless and unnecessary use of force. Conservatives have leapt to defend the policeman, who has been identified as Richland County Senior Deputy Ben Fields, 34, with unabashed and naked racism.
As the the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Richland County Police all prepares individual civil rights investigations, Fields has promptly been fired. Sheriff Leon Lott expressed his anger at a press conference, saying that “I wanted to throw up. This makes you sick to your stomach when you see that initial video. But that’s just a snapshot” and criticized Fields for his unnecessary brutality with the understatement of the year: “that is not a proper technique and should not be used by law enforcement.”
It will come as no surprise that, as we see far too often in these cases, the officer involved had a history of violence and brutality that was swept under the rug. US UNCUT reports that Fields once “slammed him to the ground, cuffed him, began kicking him, and chemically maced him until his clothing was drenched and the contents of the can of mace was [sic] depleted,” into a black Army medic’s face when a confrontation over “loud music” escalated into outrageous violence, telling him that “you’re just another notch in my belt.” Gawker notes he was also reprimanded for shoving a pregnant into a wall in 2012, and that he was known around the school as “Officer Slam.” On top of all of that, he is one of ten defendants in a separate lawsuit, where he is accused of “lack of due process, negligence, negligent supervision and a violation of the right to public education” in the case of a black student who was falsely accused of gang activity.
A closer look into the school district reveals a troubling tale of systematic racism and illustrates how the “school-to-prison” pipeline works. The girl in the most recent video committed no crime, other than being a obstinate teenager. Her friend who recorded the video was also arrested for “disturbing school” and held on a $1,000 bond. Nothing illustrates the reality of policing in America more than that. An invented crime used as an excuse to extort money while creating a “criminal record” for the black teen and simultaneously punishing her for daring to expose Fields’ brutality. The lack of accountability in our police forces and the institutionalized racism found across the South, and the fact that corporal punishment is still legal in South Carolinian schools shows that we still have a great deal of work to do; these abhorrent miscarriages of justice cannot be allowed to continue.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.