The White Cop, the Black Girl, and the Cell Phone
EDIT: Those unfamiliar with this story can catch up here
In college, I had a history class with an autistic savant. He was obsessed with disasters. His knowledge was encyclopedic. Sometimes in the middle of class he would yell out facts about the Hindenburg or some deadly earthquake. He was an occasional distraction but never a problem.
Then the September 11th attacks happened. The next class he was able to contain his enthusiasm until about halfway through. With no warning, he sprung from his desk with a gleeful shriek. Impersonating the movement of the two planes using his hands, he glided to the front of the room. He bellowed aircraft sounds and crashed his hands into the blackboard so hard it echoed. A very awkward silence silence followed, then he quietly returned to his desk. The professor handled it like a champ and finished the lesson. Strange things happen in classrooms.
Another time in middle school a classmate of mine decided to throw his desk. He chucked it clean over three rows before nearly taking out a biology teacher. The student eventually calmed down and went to the principle’s office. A good teacher knows how to handle crazy situations. Sometimes you need to allow the situation to cool down. Don’t escalate while a hormone soaked fourteen year old is in a berserker rage.
Sometimes police are necessary. My freshman year of high school was marred by several racially motivated brawls involving dozens of students. Rednecks who didn’t even go to the school would show up just to fight. Without police involvement a very bad situation would have gotten much worse.
The young female in the now famous video was out of line. She was asked repeatedly to surrender her cell phone and she refused. Then the cop brutally overreacted. This isolated event has caused an ideological tear raging across social media. I think it is important to understand why.
Many have blamed the young female student, who is an orphan living in foster care. The assumption is this is just one example of how out of control some schools are getting. This argument feels like dog-whistling. Whether or not the school was out of control, the issue with the girl was simple. She was refusing to give up her cell phone. Can we really be surprised? We basically worship the damn things in this country. And after losing her parents, Its not surprising a young child might react strongly to people wanting to take her most prized possession. It wasn’t like she was mimicking terrorist attacks in the middle of class.
I taught in Japan for four years and learned what the classroom looks like from the other side. And while many assume that kids in Japan are perfectly behaved, they are still kids. I often struggled as a teacher, and plenty of times lost control of classrooms. I once caught a kid watching porn on his iPhone during class.
There is no point in pretending the young girl in the video wasn’t completely insubordinate. The teacher had lost control of the situation. As a former teacher myself, I can sympathize. Sometimes kids won’t behave. I saw it plenty of times as a student in America and as a teacher in Japan. It’s beyond frustrating.
But there must be better ways to discipline a child. The situation was not bad enough for the cop to jerk her out of her seat and slam her on the ground (causing psychological harm and several injuries). Sometimes, in the ongoing war of teachers vs iPhones, you are going to lose a battle. When that happens just finish the damn lesson and strategize with co-workers and parents on how to discourage this type of behavior. Don’t get in an ego war with the kid and then call the cops. Sometimes the kids temporarily win. It sucks but it happens.
I won’t presume to know how African Americans feel about this issue, but I can understand how a white cop busting in a classroom and throwing a young black girl around brings up some very painful memories, both recent and past. To many, this is just another example of mistreatment of African Americans by police. It very well might be. But it is not only black girls that get manhandled by police for talking on cell phones in school.
I believe America can be a place where cops don’t bust in classrooms and toss kids around. That should only happen in countries with missile parades. Usually the more fucked up a country is the more brutal and involved the cops are. We can do better. I don’t believe cops in America are bad guys, and I hope it stays that way. Sure they make mistakes and shouldn’t be afraid of reform, but without them things would be much, much worse.
I hope that this video’s only legacy is not just raging rhetoric on the internet. Schools need to rethink disciplinary strategies, and come up with something better than police force to control students, especially for something as trivial as a young girl in a bratty mood locking horns with a teacher over a cell phone. Violence has no place in schools, and as adults we should lead by example.