Is This Who We Are Now?

There’s so much I want to say about the South Carolina video making the rounds right now. You’ve seen it, right? It’s an algebra class, and an officer is brought in to help with a disturbance. For actions like his, you’d think it must be quite a disturbance in that classroom – maybe violence, threats, weapons. And even if so, his actions are still hard to watch.

But no, you’d be wrong.  No weapons or threats or violence. Just a cell phone.


How is it ever, ever okay to flip a desk and literally dump a student to the floor? How is it ever, ever okay to drag and toss her across the classroom floor and cuff her in front of her classmates? How is it that an officer – who is also the school’s football coach – is given the authority to use force against a student half his size while she sits at her desk?

And how is it that a teacher – who surely works long days and weekends and is dedicated to these students for a pittance in pay – can stand helpless in a classroom while this happens?

What message is sent to the other students in the class – the young women, who watch violence against another woman, the young men, who watch their football coach exert such violence?

It turns out this student used her cell phone in class, and refused to put it away when asked to do so. When did dumping students on the floor and cuffing them become the solution to this infraction? When did violence become the first resort to protests, to acts of peaceful rebellion, to the perennial cases of students acting out in a classroom?

“Don’t hit. Use your words.” Apparently that’s what we tell our toddlers, not our officers.

This officer has now been fired, as I believe he should be. Investigations are underway. Attention has been called to it. Discussions are happening across the country – as they should.

Yes, this is a racial issue, and it is being reported and handled accordingly.

But this is also an education issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s a violence against women issue. It’s a community issue. It’s a how-is-it-these-guys-think-it’s-okay-to-do-these-things-and-we-let-them-get-away-with-it issue.

It’s a is-this-who-we-are-now? issue. Control, threats, and violence, no matter the circumstances – that’s okay now?

I’m with President Obama when he talked about gun violence. It’s become standard, and we have our canned responses. We watched Ray Rice slug his then-fiancee in the grainy elevator footage, and we were outraged for a bit, then football season started and we moved on. We watched officers chase, throw to the ground, and cuff teenagers at a suburban pool party, and we were horrified – until the next news cycle.

October is winding down, and with it, the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Unfortunately, violence doesn’t follow the patterns of the moon or the calendar.

This time, the violence was in a classroom, and it is horrifying to watch.

Violence just like that goes on in homes across the country – in million dollar mansions, in pretty little suburban homes, and in affordable housing complexes. Husbands and fathers (and yes, occasionally wives and mothers) who believe it’s okay to hit, push, threaten, intimidate, and control those they say they love. It happens behind closed doors, and neighbors and friends often look away, don’t know, or say “he’s never done that to me, or in front of me.” Somehow they think that makes it okay, or that it’s none of their business.

It happens on streets across the country, where people of color are singled out, threatened, yanked out of cars, beaten, and often killed at the hands of authority figures we’ve been told are there to protect us.

It happens in schools where bullies find their targets and harass them mercilessly about anything from their sexuality to their looks to their ethnicity. In colleges, it’s called “hazing,” that sadistic ritual where your “brothers” or “sisters” take control over you and force hideous, dangerous acts upon you to command your “loyalty.”

This is who we are now?  Through our silence – and even through our momentary outrage until the next meme comes along – we make it okay. We give power to those who crave it most – the perpetrators who only find their self-worth in diminishing or destroying that of someone else.

I want to believe we can fix this, not be these people, the ones who condone violence, accept it, consider it part of life. We can speak up. We can stay focused, stay on message, keep standing up against it. We can quit laughing at the locker room jokes, quit hanging out with the guy who’s been accused of violence. We can teach our sons and daughters differently than we were taught. We can stand up against racism, understand it better, recognize it when it happens, and call it out when we see it.

One little step at a time. It’s hard. It requires commitment, focus, speaking up in uncomfortable situations, showing up, talking about it. It requires awareness, outrage, and commitment. It requires caring about not just ourselves – our little families – but our community, our state, our nation. Violence anywhere is violence against all of us.

What other choice do we have? if we don’t speak up, who are we?