On Monday evening (Oct. 26), the Internet erupted in outrage after a video surfaced online of a young girl at Columbia, S.C.’s Spring Valley High School being choked, slammed and dragged by now-fired school resource officer Ben Fields. After parsing through commentary on social media, I reluctantly pressed play on the footage. Observing the young student’s refusal to leave the classroom, and the jaw-dropping violence that ensued thereafter, all I could think about was one person: my sister.
Though only one year older than me, my sister and I somehow turned out like night and day. Same family structure, same upbringing, same values instilled, and yet we were complete opposites. As a child, I found joy in stowing away in the closet and attempting to read the entire dictionary from cover-to-cover, while my sister spent her time spewing rude remarks that often landed her in physical altercations with other children. We went to the same middle school, and every time someone learned that we were sisters, they gasped in disbelief. That’s your sister? Simply put: we were not alike in any way. The only thing we had in common were our shared genetics.
My sister was what some – everyone else besides my father, really – would call “the bad child.” She acted out, spat her first curse words way before I did, and hardly ever completed her schoolwork. I, on the other hand, was the classic nerd. I wore huge red glasses that made my outer appearance match my inner one. I was well-behaved, eager to learn and a delight to all my teachers. We were living proof that sometimes parents can do everything “right,” and still end up with a child gone rogue. My father screamed, cried and everything in between, but no adult ever choked my sister, slammed her to the ground, or dragged her across a floor. Today, she is a smart, independent woman excelling at a financial institution, and I am the News Editor for VIBE. This, is proof that “bad kids” and “good kids” can both turn out just fine.
The next morning, after Officer Fields’ display of recklessness made its rounds, I was anxious to get my sister’s thoughts. I asked her to write them in an open letter.
This is for the parents who believe they could have “taught their child better.” For the CNN hosts who need to know “all the facts.” And for television personalities who say this is as simple as “following the rules.” Read what my sister, a “bad kid,” had to say about the Spring Valley High School assault:
In middle school back in the late ‘90s, I was considered one of the worst-behaved students. I did everything from fight fellow classmates to curse at my principal and teachers. In most instances, I was either suspended or sent to detention where school safety would monitor me. There were also several times where school safety officials got involved to escort me from a class where I was being disruptive or break up a fight I was involved in.
I can vividly remember a time when I was being the class clown as usual, talking and laughing as my teacher was giving a lesson. My principal, Ms. Jordan, was called into my class. Before she arrived, I was directing a barrage of profanity towards another student who tried to tell me to stop so the teacher may continue the lesson. But I was literally preparing myself for Ms. Jordan’s arrival to my class – because I had a few words for her too. I always felt singled out by Ms. Jordan when there were students who behaved worse than I did (or at least I thought they did). I felt it was always an extreme measure of discipline taken with me, by either calling my father or consistently suspending me for the smallest things like being late to class. I felt untouchable by any authority, and was going to give her a piece of my mind. As Ms. Jordan walked in, I let her have it; it was like fireworks, back-to-back curse words as I let her know exactly how I was feeling, with no regard for her feelings. Ms. Jordan was appalled by my behavior. She contacted my father and immediately suspended me. When I got home my father put me on punishment for the whole summer. But even that didn’t stop me.
In every situation, my father was called and was asked to come in for a conference. My father – who was very active in my schooling – was not happy about my behavior. So he paired up with my teachers and principal and got daily reports on my behavior, but that didn’t work either; I had some growing up to do. I was just a kid hanging with the wrong crowd and being influenced by the wrong people. My reality check came quick and by surprise, when the same principal I cursed out told me I wasn’t allowed to attend graduation, but that I was being promoted to the next grade. It was then that I realized that my actions caused for such embarrassment. I realized that was not who I am but who I pretended to be and I needed to change and so that’s exactly what I did.
I don’t glorify those days nor am I proud of my past behavior. The girl who was distracting the classroom at Spring Valley High School was me in the late ‘90s in Brooklyn, and I don’t remember a time where school officials used excessive force to remove me from a classroom or dragged me across the floor, or placed me in handcuffs unless I was involved in a fight. What kind of discipline is that? How is dragging me out my chair going to teach me not to disrupt a class? Times are headed for the worst if this is how children are supposed to learn. Kids are not all well behaved; that’s a part of growing up. And it’s the job of school safety to protect our kids, not hurt them. It’s their job to teach, not use excessive force as a method of discipline.