Ken Berwitz

I assume you have seen the video of a White police officer – Officer to be exact – slamming a Black female student, still in her chair, down to the ground and then forcibly extricating her from the chair.

This, of course, is a slam dunk:  a racist cop physically abusing a helpless young Black girl.  Call out the sharptons and jacksons; this man needs a tarring and feathering.  And that\’s just for openers.

Except… may not be that simple.

Excerpted from Erik Ortiz\’s article at

One of the videostaken as a school resource officer slammed a student sitting at her desk at aSouth Carolina high school also shows her punching the deputy during theconfrontation, authorities said Tuesday.

That video, describedby Sheriff Leon Lott as the “third video,” will play a part in theinternal affairs investigation into whether Senior Deputy Ben Fields violatedpolicy in Monday\’s incident at Spring Valley High School in Columbia.

The Justice Departmentand the FBI announced Tuesday they would open their own investigations intowhether the girl\’s civil rights were violated. The South Carolina LawEnforcement Division is also conducting a separate probe.

Lott told reportersTuesday that his department\’s internal investigation should be completed withinthe next 24 hours, when he will announce Fields\’ fate with the agency.

“I wanted tothrow up,” Lott said after first viewing footage of the incident.”This makes you sick to your stomach when you see that initial video. Butthat\’s just a snapshot.”

Lott also said hedoesn\’t believe race was a factor in what happened – and noted that Fields hasbeen dating an African-American woman for “quite some time.”

Yet Fields – whomstudents allegedly referred to as “Officer Slam” – has also been thesubject of previous excessive force and racial bias allegations.

A teacher hadcomplained that the student, who has not been identified, was being unrulyduring class and refused to leave even after an administrator was called in.

“The student waswrong in what she did – she disrupted class, she was disturbing the othersstudents from getting an education. But does her actions meet the level of whatthis officer did?” Lott asked. “That\’s what we\’re going to decide.”

Fields in the videosshared on social media stands in front of the student, and orders her to standup or be forcibly removed. She refuses to leave. Fields is then seenbody-slamming the student to the ground while she\’s still in her seat, and thendragging her and her desk across the floor.

In the third videoviewed by police, Lott said, it shows the girl hitting the officer in the headonce he puts his hands on her: “There\’s no question about that.”

The female student inthe video as well as a second student – identified as Niya Kenny – was arrestedfor “contributing to the chaos,” Lott added.

Kenny, who admits thatshe was “using a few F-bombs” during the confrontation, said Fieldsis known in the school for being physical.

“We already knowhis reputation, and I felt something bad was going to go down,” Kenny saidwhen the deputy walked into the classroom, adding, “He\’s known as OfficerSlam.”

Is this a racial incident?  It could be:  Senior Deputy Fields has been accused of it before.  

But is there any certainty about it?  Not at all:  Fields was not found to be guilty of racism in the past, and – if this story is accurate – he has been dating a Black woman for some time.  That\’s not the kind of thing a racist does.

Just how disruptive was the student?  We know she was disruptive enough for the teacher to call for help, so the answer, it seems evident, is very much so.

There is no doubt that she refused to get up from her desk when asked politely to do so – more than once.  

And there is a possibility that she took a swing at Officer Fields before he physically pulled her from the chair:  at this point, we don\’t know for sure one way or the other.

Where does this leave us?  It leaves us not knowing for sure what happened, or why it happened.

What does is mean we should do?  It means we should wait until we know more before jumping to conclusions in either direction.

Fair enough?  I hope so.


UPDATE:  Ben Shields as been fired.  

Is it because the evidence was too damning or because it facilitated putting this incident in the school\’s rear view mirror?  We may or may not ever find out for sure.

But one thing we can be reasonably sure of.  The student who he was called to remove from the classroom – the one who disobeyed and disrespected him, along with the teacher and any student in that class who wanted to learn – is now dramatically empowered.  Don\’t expect anyone to stop her from behaving exactly the same way again…and don\’t expect anyone to stop any other disrupter either, because this empowers them all.

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