Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Officer Ben Fields Has Been Fired. What Should Happen Next in the Spring Valley High Assault Case?

A Band-Aid. Now, how do we fix America's broken schools and out of control cops?

Officer Ben Fields, he who assaulted a young black girl at for the "crime" of being "disruptive" for looking at her cell phone during class, has been dismissed from employment.

In Star Wars: A New Hope, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi cautioned Luke Skywalker that "your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them."

The videographic evidence in the assault at Spring Valley High would seem to suggest, at least in this instance, that the truth was clearly visible: Ben Fields acted inappropriately and unprofessionally.

This is, of course, not enough to satisfy those who idolize police, are enraptured with their thuggery, and have internalized both authoritarianism and a deep animus towards black people.

Their logic is predictable. We see it in every instance when the black and brown body is under assault by the State or its white identified vigilantes. The victim "provoked" the response. There must be a "good reason" for a police officer to act so violently. If he or she just "listened" to the police they would not have been shot, killed, beaten, locked up, raped, or otherwise abused.

The Sheriff who fired Ben Fields evokes such logic.

From CNN:
But the student must shoulder responsibility for the disruptive behavior that escalated to the officer being called in, the sheriff said. 
"When a classroom is disrupted by a student, that disrupts the education process and the students can't learn and the teachers can't teach," Lott said. "We have to have discipline in our schools." 
What the student did does not justify the officer's actions, the sheriff said, but she must take responsibility for her role. 
"We must not lose sight that this whole incident started by this student," he said. "She is responsible for initiating this action. Some responsibility falls on her."
(To my eyes, unless a student in actively threatening the lives and safety of themselves, their peers, or a school employee, the level of force used by Ben Fields is out-sized).

The Right-wing hate media and open trough urinal has also featured versions of his logic.

As I wrote over at Salon, the Spring Valley High case should first be interrogated as an example of what it reveals about race, citizenship, and the school to prison pipeline. Outrage must serve the long-term goal of confronting and reorienting Power if we are to have true justice, and a Common Good that serves all Americans equally and fairly.

There are other questions/elements to this process as well.

Why are police in America's schools? What types of personalities are attracted to police work?

Ben Fields, a grown man, seems very angry that a teenager--what a shock!--would not comply with his instructions. Police anger and rage are common variables motivating their brutality against people of color, the poor, the mentally ill, and those others the State deems to be disposable and expendable.

The irony. Heavily armed men and women in blue with the power to kill are acting like cowards.

In an interview at GQ magazine, David Thomas, a psychologist and former cop, offers these insights on police behavior:
This may be shocking, but the greatest stressors officers face are within the organization. And the research supports that. Officers have a certain degree of paranoia that their department or agency won’t support them if things go to hell in a handbasket. That becomes the greatest stressor that they have in doing their job. 
Another consistent stressor is boredom. Everybody thinks what you see on Cops is the job. I’d bet that they do 80 hours of filming to get to the few minutes of what we see on television. I’ve always said the job is 90 percent boredom and 10 percent sheer terror.
Speaking of terror, in many of the cases where we’ve seen force used by the police, officers talk about being afraid. 
What is the role of fear in policing? It would seem that there has to be a balance between being vigilant and being afraid of everything. 
There are some officers that will tell you they don’t fear anything. If they tell you that, they’re lying or they don’t need to be working. 
The fear is what keeps you honest and it keeps you on your toes. There are others who are too afraid. That’s where you see mistakes made. It’s where an officer has been too quick to pull the trigger because they didn’t properly assess a threat. There’s a direct relationship between fear and an officer’s response. It should be moderated, though, by an officer’s training. Training helps control the fear. 
Now, one of the things I try to address when I train officers is that, as police officers, they always have the last word in an interaction. Many think that they have to always show people that they’re in control because if they don’t they’ll seem afraid. They try to mask the fear by being dominant. The opposite ends up happening. It shows they’re afraid.
Police consultant Steve Albrecht offers his thoughts on the nature of the police mind:
So Police Fear #1 is the fear of death, since there is always at least one gun at every police contact (his or her own service weapon).

Police Fear #2 is connected to the officer's use of authority. The vast majority of people, when stopped by the police, comply with the officer's requests for information or ID. Most people pull over when the red lights come on; most people answer when the officer asks them a question. A small number of people resist immediately or defy the officer's legal authority to stop them. This creates tremendous tension in the officer. The presence of these fears is not about race; it's about survival. 
Because so many people comply, when someone doesn't, the officer is usually temporarily shocked, and when he or she recovers, he or she often responds with a level of anger, or force, or the need to over-exert authority to remind the other person who is really in charge. If people ran away or drove away at high speeds every time the cops tried to stop them, we would have anarchy. Most people comply, even hard-edged street crooks, who know the process...

A long-term study by the FBI concluded what many cops already know: Officer Friendly gets injured or killed by opportunistic crooks who see him or her as weak; Officer Aggressive gets injured or killed, because everything de-evolves into a fight; but Officer Assertive lives to work another day because he or she knows the difference between wielding too little authority and too much.
America's police are empowered by the courts to use broad discretion in how they decide to use lethal force, escalate situations to a violent and deadly outcome, and are in turn shielded by the language of "reasonable force" or "in fear of their lives".

Emotionally unstable police who are given the power to kill and abuse citizens almost at will (and the broader police culture that encourages this behavior) should be a concern for all people on both sides of the color line. It is not: Whiteness and white privilege more often than not blinds too many white folks to shared matters of public concern, safety, and security. This is an old story in American culture, life, and politics.

The Spring Valley High assault is also a moment to critically examine the "zero tolerance" policies that have made America's schools a space where education is secondary to socialization into the carceral society and as preparation for future incarceration. Moreover, what are the "on the books" procedures for handling "disruptive" or "problematic" students?

While he may have been fired, Ben Fields may very well, as is his right, pursue a lawsuit against his former employer and claim that he was just following standard procedure. There are many Little Eichmanns in America's bureaucracies and according system of neoliberal governmentality. Ben Fields may be one of them.

Are you satisfied with the preliminary outcome in the Spring Valley High assault case? What types of systematic changes in policy would you create to disrupt the school to prison pipeline?

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