Futility of “Colorblindness”: Nonviolent Spring Valley High School (South Carolina) Discipline Issue “Resolved” with Violence by a Police Officer

[Update 10-28-2015: The student thrown down is a grieving person; she has an estranged mother,and now she is in foster care. This is simply an extremely sad case, with multiple levels of failure.]

The placement of police officers in schools to use the criminal justice system to resolve issues of nonviolent school discipline issues must end. It affects students by prematurely blocking them from the society with criminal records. It allows police tactics to replace the educational purpose of the schools, both in teaching academic subjects as well as helping students learn to self-manage their emotions and actions. Police officers are trained to handle threats and serious, violent crimes, not nonviolent student disciplinary issues, like using cellphones in class, backtalk, or other displays of minor, but irritating, teenage disobedience.

[Author’s note: For further background information about police officers (also referred as school resource officers) in educational institutions, see Raymond, Barbara, “Assigning Police Officers to Schools.”]

In Spring Valley High School in South Carolina, an alleged minor rule infraction was escalated to a criminal justice issue by the teacher and ultimately the high school’s administrator, subjecting the student to violence for an issue that well could have waited until the class ended to discuss with cool heads.

Instead of that, students were taught an alternative lesson: absolute compliance with authority is expected or expect the violent powers of the state to be used against you. In addition, your physical safety matters not one iota to us if you block us in any way. To the black students–you are not safe at all; we do not respect you as a human being but rather as a thing to be dominated and controlled.

Virginia Slave Law, 1705
Virginia Slave Law, 1705

In the book, “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Coates wrote the following:

In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body–it is heritage.

Reverend Thomas Merton (referenced by Pope Francis during a speech before Congress in September 2015) in discussing the civil rights movement and its meaning in a letter to a white liberal wrote the following:

“The Negro children of Birmingham, who walked calmly up to the police dogs that lunged at them with a fury capable of tearing their small bodies to pieces, were not only confronting the truth in an exalted moment of faith, a providential kairos. They were also in their simplicity, bearing heroic Christian witness to the truth, for they were exposing their bodies to death in order to show God and man that they believed in the just rights of their people, knew that those rights had been unjustly, shamefully and systematically violated, and realized that the violation called for expiation and redemptive protest, because it was an offense against God and His Truth.” (Merton (1964), “Seeds of Destruction,” page 44.)

So, the whole class was traumatized; all learning stopped as a result of the violence used against a student who apparently used a cellphone in class to the chagrin of the teacher.