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I think I’m supposed to be outraged. My blood should probably be boiling at a video filmed by a classmate of the teenage girl at Spring Valley High, who was dragged from her chair and pinned down by a police officer in her classroom. Instead, it hurt me. She did not threaten anyone and did not have a weapon. The discussion around the incident has been focused on the excessive force used by the police, not the fact that there was an officer called to a classroom because a student declined to participate and didn’t leave the classroom when asked. Is this the response from authority that we have come to expect and accept? Why is this considered acceptable just because the student wasn’t white?
I’ve had people pour drinks on me, push me, scream at me and claim that I deserved harsh treatment with excuses like “a lot of black girls are whack.” The guilty parties will tell you that it is not about race, and then respectability politics will come into play. Respectability politics refers to the idea that if someone acts in a ‘socially respectable’ way then maybe they would be afforded the rights and fair treatment that they were supposed to have in the first place. “If she didn’t have an attitude…” “If she behaved properly…” “If she subjected herself to police brutality with a smile on her face, maybe she would have been arrested nicely.” “If she had not disrupted the school and disrupted that class, we would not be standing here today” was the direct quote from County Sheriff Leon Lott in response to the video. These respectability politics don’t affect black women only when interacting with the police. Research groups such as the African American Policy Forum and The Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy have sought to measure the impact on black girls of “[being] subject to harsher disciplinary interventions because they are perceived to be unruly, loud, and unmanageable” both inside and outside the classroom.
This is what I know for certain: the function of the police is to protect and serve the community. In that classroom no one was at risk or being harmed by the student in question; if the girl’s lack of participation was considered disruptive, surely the officer’s response was far more of a distraction. Will students feel safe attending this class now? According to a publication titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected,” increased levels of law enforcement and security personnel within schools often make girls feel less safe and less likely to attend school. How will this teenager in her formative years view educational institutions or law enforcement?
For all of the incidents that garner media attention, we will never know the number of times someone was not fortunate enough to have the incident recorded.
Last summer the police were called to a teenage pool party in a gated community, and a black girl was subjected to excessive force and arrested. This fall, it was a black girl in a classroom. Who will it be this winter? A girl buying skittles wearing a hoodie? I’m angry that my existence and appearance means that I apparently deserve abusive treatment in the eyes of the law enforcement, or the eyes of my teacher, or the eyes of my partner. I like to think that I matter, just as much as the next girl. This is not a hashtag, this is a message: black girls matter.