Nearly two months after then-school resource officer Ben Fields threw a student across the room for refusing to leave the classroom, she and another student are facing criminal charges.
The 16-year-old victim, known as “Shakara,” and her 18-year-old classmate Niya Kenny, who filmed the video seen ‘round the world, were arrested that day at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. Despite the fact that Fields was fired for his actions, the Black teens were charged with disturbing schools, a misdemeanor that could result in 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. Shakara was also charged with assault on an officer while resisting arrest. Meanwhile, Fields, who is White, has not yet been charged. He is being investigated by the FBI, not local police.
Yesterday (December 18), district parents, the Justice for the Spring Valley Two Coalition, the Alliance for Education Justice, ColorOfChange and other activists delivered a petition to fifth judicial circuit solicitor Dan Johnson. The petition, which they say had hundreds of thousands of signatures, demanded that the state drop the charges against the girls.
“Sadly, what is happening to Shakara and Niya is no isolated incident. There is a racially biased system of school discipline across the country,” Efia Nwangaza, of the Justice for the Spring Valley Two Coalition, said in a statement. “Black girls are six times more likely to be punished—and more severely so than their white counterparts—and three times their Black male counterparts in Richland.”
The activists also started the hashtag #DropTheCharges, posting messages of solidarity and information about criminal justice system inequality and how it impacts Black children.
But Johnson made it clear that the movement would have no impact on how he will proceed with the charges. In a statement released ahead of the petition presentation, he said:
Until we receive the FBI’s findings at the conclusion of their investigation, the incident involving Ben Fields is not a pending case within the Richland County Solicitor’s Office. …
Please be advised that the cases involving the students and the FBI investigation involving Ben Fields are inextricably linked. Therefore, while one is under investigation, the others cannot be resolved and will not go forward. No prosecution decisions in these cases will be made, nor can they be fairly made, until all investigations are complete, and all evidence is collected and assessed according to the relevant laws….
Every case within this Circuit is prosecuted on the basis of evidence. I do not simply decide cases based upon feelings, public opinion or sentiment, nor do I decide them based on political pressure. And, I believe, that is what all citizens expect from their Solicitor. While I am encouraged that the public is engaged and interested in this process, I feel compelled to remind the community that public sentiment, petitions, chain letters and calling campaigns are effective tools for impacting legislation and changing the law. However, the Solicitor’s Office is not where the law is made. Our duty is to prosecute cases or to decline the prosecution of cases based only on evidence and in accordance with the law, not based upon majority opinion nor public outcry. The cases involving the juvenile student and Niya Kenny, as with all other cases pending in the Fifth Circuit, shall be decided fairly, based upon the legal evidence in each case and in accordance with the laws of this State.
(H/t The Huffington Post)