It’s one thing to know the statistics showing how Black women and girls are victims of police killings, sexual assault and abusive treatment. It’s another to see it happening in real time on cellphone video. It happened last June at a swimming pool in Texas, and it happened again yesterday at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina.
The video shows a teenage girl seated at her classroom desk being assaulted by the very person the school relies on to keep students safe. There is nothing she could have said or done to justify the officer upending her desk, slamming her onto the ground, threatening her with arrest and dragging her across the floor.
Too many incidents of this kind begin when girls—who are expected to be “ladylike” and obedient—challenge authority. And when African American girls “act up,” law enforcement acts with disproportionate force and violence. Whether you call it gendered racism or racist sexism, it is always unacceptable.
The Richland County sheriff’s office says the violent deputy is being fired, and federal investigations have been announced. But let’s remember that this is not an isolated incident of one officer going rogue. School boards, state legislatures, and the U.S. Congress must begin taking seriously the racial injustice that children of color endure in our schools. At the very least, we need to know how schools screen, or fail to screen, the law enforcement personnel they put in charge of children’s safety.
When the safe haven of our schools become danger zones for teenage girls, we need to act.