I had only been having dinner with my cousin, Andy, while we watched the recent Vice Documentary where President Obama made a visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma. Amongst the things highlighted, was the unequal treatment of black people compared to that of white people in federal prisons. The two of us then discussed this, and spoke to one another about how ghastly ridiculous it is that so many black people get life sentences in prison for first time drug offences. How there is a thumping inequality between the proportion of black people in jail with that of white people, and it being the consummate injustice.
I only just got in the door home, when I casually scrolled down my Twitter feed to be confronted, quite frankly, by one of the most outrageous videos I have seen in quite some time. It shows a police officer, Deputy Ben Fields, violently man-handling and dragging a young black female student from her desk on front of a group of her fellow students. The young gentleman who dutibly and sensibly recorded the incident, was allegedly arrested for having so done. On what grounds, I wonder? This vicious interaction took place at Spring Valley High School in Richland County, South Carolina. If an assault is determined as a physical attack, then surely this qualifies. Imagine it was a member of your family? One can, and should, view the videos below:
I found irresistible the righteous compulsion to email the Principal of the school, Mr. Jeff Temoney. Making staunchly my concerns regarding the incident, hoping for a thorough investigation, and extending my well wishes to the students. Martin O'Malley, Presidential Candidate, Former Governor of Maryland, and Mayor of Baltimore, had a powerful live reaction on television. I thought, as he did, that if it actually had been a member of my own family, I would be incensed by a formidable anger. Watch below:
A young gentleman, and fellow student, who tweeted that he was himself in the classroom during the assault, described the incident. Apparently it all kicked off because the girl was chewing gum. And what on earth was the teacher doing standing there watching it all?
One of the students, Tony Robinson Jr., who videotaped the incident said he and other students were scared as the incident played out. A second student who was arrested, Niya Kenny, spoke out about what happened.
Deputy Ben Fields, the 34-year-old senior school resource officer at the high school, has been placed on administrative duty while an investigation takes place within the sheriff's office. The school district said it instructed Fields not to return to any school in the district until the investigation has been concluded. The video, predictably went viral, with #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh trending worldwide on both Twitter and Facebook. It also surfaced that Fields has been sued twice in federal court. One of the lawsuits is still pending with a jury trial set for January 2016. It concerns allegations that Fields is accused of falsely claiming that a black student was a gang member The other lawsuit, in which Fields was accused of attacking a man over a noise complaint went to a jury, which ruled in his favour. According to the lawsuit, Fields later confiscated a mobile phone from Mr. Carlos Martin's wife, Tashiana Anita Martin, who had reasonably recorded the incident on video and then never received back her phone. Ms. Martin was then also arrested.
A tweet that got some attention regarding the incident from a lady stating she was a graduate of Spring Valley High, was not at all surprised.
She is also, apparently, not the only one:
The utility and swift immediacy that social media enables is perfectly vindicated in an incident such as this one. Now that so many incidents are being recorded, whether it is an officer throwing a young girl around at a pool party, or a woman, Sandra Bland, who dies in a jail cell under suspicious circumstances after being arrested for a broken tail light, or an unarmed black gentleman, Eric Garner, who was choked to death in broad daylight here in New York City, or the shooting of musician - and you can still listen to his Music if you would like to remember him - Anthony Hill, despite the fact he was unarmed and had his arms up, or the numerous other cases of police brutality.
I recently sat beside relatives of the late James Baldwin, at a screening of the documentary "The Price Of The Ticket", by Karen Thorsen and Douglas K. Dempsey, in the Lincoln Center in Manhattan. I wonder, so very often, what Jimmy would say about us. Again and again, when anger strikes, I turn to 'The Fire Next Time', a letter to his nephew James and a blistering analysis of America's racial divide. Those words Baldwin wrote to his nephew are burned into my memory, and they remind me, not only of injustice against Black people, but injustice against all people. Everyone should read those words.
"The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what that believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, though the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them."
I also think of Gore Vidal, who said "we learn nothing because we remember nothing".
What a world.