On Monday, 26 October 2015, a police officer in a high school in Columbia, SC jerked a 16-year-old girl from her desk and threw her across the room before cuffing her and taking her into custody.
The description of her “crime” is that she took out her cell phone, glanced at it, put it away, and when the teacher told her to hand the cell phone over, she refused stating over and over that she had done nothing wrong. When instructed to leave the room, she refused and a confrontation ensued between her, and subsequently an administrator of the school. Although she was somewhat disruptive in class, she posed no threat to anyone. Her behaviour was definitely out of line, but so was the way the entire situation escalated under the direction of the adults handling it. That the police officer was a white male, who already had a record of inappropriate use of force, and the student was a black female has only served to muddy the waters.
I have some very strong opinions regarding this incident, but one question keeps coming back to me again and again.
How did we get here and why did we ever think that having police deal with many of the discipline problems in the public schools was the way to go?
Has NO ONE considered that while police officers can be a deterrent in some instances, their very presence is an unmistakable demonstration to students that they are not trusted by the administration at any speed and can be the one dynamic that takes a manageable situation and turns it into an explosive one?
We all know that children many times do not have the best judgment in the decisions they make, especially when poor impulse control by the child is added to the mix. But the inevitable, and necessary, confrontations between children and adults – thus between students, teachers, and administration – are not usually crimes, nor should they be criminalised, as is happening far too often in the US.
Children need the confrontations in order to learn what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. They also need it in order to become stronger people in character and learn to think their way through the issues confronting them, to problem solve.
Currently, rather than have children who can think through the moral and ethical issues of their choices and the possible consequences of their behaviour, we have a lot of children and adults who have matriculated through this type of environment where they were taught to believe that obedience to all authority and instruction is what is correct and that any deviation is wrong, something that is not true. This same inability to think through the issues at hand has also inhibited and/or destroyed their abilities to stand up to authority correctly and effectively when it is the right and necessary thing to do.
Also from this environment, we have a growing segment of children and adults who are steadfastly defiant at nearly every level. They will not be controlled, they will not abide by the rules, and they do not trust anyone. Sometimes this can be the disposition of the person in question, but many times it is because their life’s experiences have taught them that no one, especially authority figures, are to be trusted at any time for any reason. And reaching them is nearly impossible.
It almost goes without saying that very little of this type of confrontation would have happened when I was in school 45+ years ago. It is easy to blow that assessment off with the canard “another time, another place,” but should we dismiss it so easily?
I do not think so.
The biggest problem we have is the ongoing erosion of moral values. We have allowed ourselves to be rendered impotent in our society when dealing with people who have wronged us individually and our society at large. We have walked away from holding those who have betrayed our trust again and again and again and again and again, ad nauseum, creating in the process a divided society where the the “good people” are in one enclave and the “not good people” are in another, but the “good people” are not strong enough anymore to maintain order. So, for a number of years, “order” has been “enforced” from the authority figures and agencies in our society, primarily law enforcement. And they do not care what they need to do in order to achieve their goal, they will do it. And they do.
The increasing problems we have with police violence and the militarisation of our law enforcement culture WILL NOT go away.
In order to solve these problems in front of us, we must first know what is morally right and what is wrong. There are universally recognised moral laws in most societies and cultures, such as: murder is wrong, abuse of power is wrong, stealing is wrong, lying is wrong, betrayal is wrong. The list of values goes on and on, but what we need the most is to return to the values that made our country great.
It is in the abandonment of, and continued refusal to support these values, that we have done ourselves great harm. To too many of us, it is more important to have a life without these responsibilities where we can be about our business without the headaches, rather than take on the task of making sure the foundations of our cultures and society at large survive. As long as we are not affected by “what is out there” we are content to let it happen “out there.” The problem is, eventually it stops being “out there” and arrives on our door step with a vengeance. That is where we are now.
WE HAVE THE STRENGTH to stand up to what is wrong in our cultures and in our society.
WE HAVE THE STRENGTH to stand up to the criminalisation of our children in their developmental hurdles.
WE HAVE THE STRENGTH to get the police out of our schools and back on the streets.
WE HAVE THE STRENGTH to stand up against those people who are destroying the right values in our nation.
WE HAVE THE STRENGTH to confront the way our country is being bought by big money in government and public policy.
WE HAVE THE STRENGTH to stand against those lawmakers and public officials whose decisions and behaviours are not in the best interest of our citizens.
WE HAVE THE STRENGTH to do whatever needs to be done in order to return us to a balanced government that cares for its citizenry, protects the country, and provides the necessary infra-structure to keep the country strong and functional.
WE HAVE THE STRENGTH.
Where we go in our future depends on what we do with cases such as this one. What the police officer did in this case was very wrong. But what the girl in this case did was wrong as well.
We have a choice. We can chalk it up to yet another case of bad behaviour on the part of one bringing on an out-of-bounds response by law enforcement. Or, we can look at both of these people and see what we can do so that both of them heal and grow into better human beings where incidents like this are not in their futures. Personally, I think that is our best choice.
But “We are not in Columbia, SC,” you say.
Probably not. But we can find this very same scenario in nearly every place in this country. All we have to do is step up to the plate and take a stand for what is right, for what should happen.
It starts with one word: respect. Respect for each other. Respect for healthy societal values. Respect for the value of human life.
Below is a short list of universal values, values nearly all cultures and societies follow. There are many other values that can be added to these. These values work and by following them, we can change the cultures and society in which we live, as well as live much better lives.
HOW WE REGARD PEOPLE:
1. All people should be addressed with respect, courtesy and honour.
2. All people should be safe from abuse, ridicule, derision, and any other types of disrespect.
3. All people are worthy and have value, no matter what their station in life, their age, their sex, their nationality, their ethnic identity, their religion, their politics, their education, their history, or their origins.
4. All people deserve justice under the law. Wealth, or the lack of it, should never pervert justice.
5. All people deserve to be treated fairly in all levels of our society.
6.All people deserve to be treated equally by their governments. A person’s popular standing in society should never determine their access to governments, nor their treatment by them.
HOW WE BEHAVE:
1. Murder is wrong.
2. Kidnapping is wrong.
3. Rape is wrong.
4. Assault and battery is wrong.
5. Abuse is wrong.
6. Neglect is wrong.
6. Stealing is wrong.
7. Betrayal is wrong.
8. Lying is wrong.
What do you think needs to be added to this list???