Drop the Charges Against the Students in Spring Valley High School

A blurred police car in the background behind crime scene tape.
A blurred police car in the background behind crime scene tape.

Although former school resource officer Ben Fields has been fired for his brutal attack on a 16-year-old black girl at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina, the charges against the victim have not yet been dropped.

The charges against Niya Kenny, the courageous student that protested during the attack also have yet to be dropped.

Just what exactly is going on here?

Most who have watched the shocking video (or have seen the images stemming from it) know that something outrageous and unacceptable took place. The victim should not face any punishment nor should any student that verbally objected to the assault.

The charges against both of these black girls should be dropped immediately and any record of their arrests should also be expunged. Now. Today.

We urgently need a course correction when it comes to the criminalization of black girls in this country; especially since so many of the girls who allegedly "misbehave" are in fact exhibiting signs of trauma.

This certainly seems to be the case for the young victim at Spring Valley High School. Reports indicate that she was recently orphaned and placed into foster care. One can scarcely imagine the physical and emotional pain that the child is suffering at this very moment--and will likely endure for a long time to come.

For far too many, the state of black girlhood in the United States is abysmal.

If that seems like an overstatement, please take a moment to consider that the number two cause of death for black girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is homicide. Also, black girls are suspended at six times the rate of their white female counterparts; and keep in mind, too, that nearly half of all black girls have been sexually coerced by the age of 18.

This has dire implications for the sexual-abuse-to-prison pipeline. Malika Saada Saar has pointed out that, "sexual abuse is a primary predictor of girls' detention," as they are rarely arrested for violent crime. Moreover, black and brown girls who are trafficked for sex are not regarded as victims but rather criminalized as prostitutes. According to the FBI, African American kids account for 59 percent of all "prostitution-related arrests under the age of 18." Meanwhile, girls comprise roughly 80 percent of prostitution-related arrests under the age of 18 in the U.S.

Moreover, the school-to-prison pipeline is funneling black girls into the legal system at an alarming rate as well. The harrowing events at Spring Valley High help to demonstrate how and why African American girls are among the fastest growing juvenile justice population and are disproportionately represented there. Though black girls make up 14 percent of the population they account for over twice that number when it comes to being detained and committed: 33.2 percent.

We need lawmakers to start a national campaign to revise school practices so that no children end up imprisoned when what they need is an effective, compassionate intervention. President Obama needs to equalize federally funded initiatives to support at-risk girls along with the boys. Nationwide, we need better safety nets in schools, clinics, and community centers, particularly protocols that better identify early signs of sexual abuse.

Perhaps most importantly, we must engender a culture that recognizes the humanity of black girls rather than tolerating a society that uses violence and discrimination to obliterate them.

Drop the charges against the children in Spring Valley High School, they have been unduly punished enough.