By now most have seen the video of the encounter between the officer and the female student from South Carolina’s Spring Valley High School. This is but the latest in a continuing tableau of disturbing interactions between the law and those it allegedly serves.
Our first inclination was to stay as far away from this incident as possible. In an environment where semi-facts and counter narratives are brick thick, few know what really happened. Each day a new allegation emerges and following the herd with uninformed, biased and over the top commentary is never helpful.
Even worse, from racism, law enforcement and “Black Lives Matter”, to schools, poverty and broken families, to politics, police and perceptions, the policy landmines are endless. It is however the very complexity of this matter coupled with the urgent need for solutions that compels a response.
Our concern is that the footage serves only to fuel our collective rage, frustration and resignation. Our hope is to shed light however dim, on a pitch dark subject.
First, the video makes it easy to vilify the officer dubbed as “Officer Slam”. His was a wretched overreaction and abuse of power which fully justifies his firing. He is being investigated by the United States Department of Justice and eventually will be sued in civil court where large sums of money will change hands and may well face criminal prosecution.
Others however see the same footage and conclude differently. They believe that the student caused the situation and even if the officer did overreact, so what? “She brought it on herself.” Some have even praised the officer, as deserving of a medal for restoring much needed order to the classroom.
There is more than enough blame to go around. The officer was the adult in the room and as a trained member of law enforcement had an affirmative duty to act in a professional and reasonable manner. Neither he nor any other officer is permitted to kick butt and take names merely because they are frustrated or feel insignificantly respected. Thus, the student’s behavior neither excuses nor justifies the officer’s conduct.
Yet, his being wrong does not make her right, even if you factor in her age, the recent loss of her mother and placement in a foster home. Education is critical to our individual and collective success. This is especially true of at-risk youth.
Instead of disrupting the class and/or playing with her cell phone, the student should have focused on her studies. And when asked repeatedly by her black teacher and school principal to relinquish her phone and/or leave leave, she should have complied.
Had I so misbehaved in school my father, who has been dead for well over 20 years, would still be kicking my ass. He would rise from the grave to tighten me up.
The ugly truth which family often ignores is that far too many of our children are destructive, irresponsible and disrespectful of any and all authority, including their own parents. Little wonder they clown in school. And too many teachers and administrators are bullied, battered and intimidated by the very pupils they are charged with mentoring. There is yet another viral video which shows a school principal being body slammed by a student.
Sadly, the incident has become political as each side digs in their respective heels, points their collective fingers at others, focuses only on those facts which support their positions and obsesses with being right rather than moving forward.
For example, thousands of African-Americans have signed petitions to have Raven Symone from “The View” and Don Lemon of CNN, both of whom are black, terminated for offering commentary that was deemed unsympathetic to the cause. Never mind that reasonableness of their positions See http://rollingout.com/2015/10/30/thousands-sign-petitions-get-raven-symone-don-lemon. More likely than not, dissenting voices in the opposite camp faced a similar fate.
But lashing out at those who differ is no substitute for finding solutions. And there is no single way of thinking; of being white, black, brown or any other shade of the rainbow. Disagreeing with conventional wisdom is hardly a sin. It is simply disagreeing. As much as I diverge from Ben Carson, he is still black.
As to law enforcement, this was not the officer’s first foray into questionable behavior. What happened here was therefore predictable. Yet until now, he has been supported by his superiors, surrounded by his peers and endorsed by a system that knew full well his proclivities. And while “Officer Slam” may not be emblematic of all or even most officers, he is certainly reflective of some and too many officers.
Under the pretense of professional outrage, of feigned sensitivity he will be sacrificed to the whims of public opinion and made the scapegoat for problems much larger than his indiscretion. But nothing, absolutely nothing will be done to fundamentally change a system in dire need of transformation. The most public officials will do is tinker around the edges.
The bottom line is that whether we like it or not, we have to live together, hopefully with love but at least with respect. Concordantly, we must end conflicts between the police and the community, which only worsen an already bad situation. The question is how?
We do not pretend to know all of the answers. But we do offer a strategy that involves greater accountability from both the system and ourselves.
Removing the shield of immunity from the criminal justice system is the first step. Justice will never be served unless and until officials who commit, shield, aid and abet wrong are personally and criminally held responsible for said wrong. No one is above the law especially those who enforce the law.
Second, while it is not necessary that we agree with or even appreciate authority, we are nevertheless obligated to conduct ourselves as law-abiding, productive citizens. We could move mountains by incentivizing our children to embrace this responsibility and to love one another as much as they do their cell phones.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum