This body-slamming incident with the security officer and the student is a shocker. But, is it really? We’re almost not even shocked anymore. We’ve seen this kind of brutality go down again and again with those in authority, and it just doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
If you think about it, it makes your stomach sick. But again, when it happens this often, we almost stop getting sick.
This is a problem.
I’ve read a few great posts about it. Morgan Guyton has some beautiful insight. He describes this 17-year-old girl, whose teacher told her to bring him her phone; she apologizes and puts it in her pocket. But the teacher presses her. When she won’t surrender the phone, he calls in backup and the girl is thrown down. The teacher’s insistence on asserting his authority is not only unnecessary—why should the teacher have a student’s phone, especially when she is complying?—but also, Guyton points out, a phone is often a student’s only protection. We know about this incident only because three classmates broke the phone rule, took out their phones and recorded it.
I am quite a compliant person, but if I were in that classroom, I would not have surrendered my phone to the teacher. These students’ cell phone is often their only defense. Oh, and the collateral damage, Guyton astutely points out, is that it means that no student in his class will ever trust or respect him again. Why would they? He has lost them for good.
Frank Schaeffer, always provocative, cites this event as evidence of our police state. “Choking and slamming a child to the floor for USING HER CELL PHONE!! is what comes of turning schools from places run by educators who are trained to handle children into child-hating jails run by thug police.”
We have got to get ourselves together. We have got to do better than this. We have got to stop treating children (almost always black or brown) as criminals. And we’ve got to stop thinking these are one-off incidents that would have been avoided if the victim had just complied. That is not what they are. This is brutality in a nation that has replaced empathy and compassion with power.
We want to believe this is an isolated incident, but it is not.
According to the New York Times article Schaeffer cites, “…details gleaned from lawsuits and civil rights complaints suggest that this kind of brutality happens in schools all the time. This is what comes of transforming school buildings from places run by educators who are trained to handle children into quasi-jails run by police.”
Isn’t it ironic that though the girl complied fully to the spirit of the request—she immediately apologized and put her phone away—the teacher was not satisfied. Yet, the officer plowed down all the rules of de-escalation by going straight to maximum force. He followed neither the spirit nor the letter of the law as he shattered every semblance of reasonable adult behavior.
What in the world?
This goes much deeper than just this incident, these groups of people, this type of situation. It is a pervasive mindset in much of our society and impacts many. The poor, women, children and those who just so happen to be LGBTQ.
Let me draw the parallels here to my heart for the LGBTQ community and their families.
The non-affirming church, the religious behavior-focused leaders (analogous to the ones Jesus blasted) who insist on compliance above all else, who see themselves in the role of rule-enforcer, are doing more damage than they can possibly understand.
Like the thug-police who are ensuring a generation of people who loathe and fear authority, compliance-based religious leaders are creating a generation of people who loathe and fear church and God. This is a high price to pay to make sure a student hands over her phone instead of putting it in her pocket. And it’s a high price to pay to make sure LGBTQ people stay out of your face because you don’t like them.
Who is the adult here?
As John Pavlovitz writes, the officer is the adult here, the adult trained to deescalate conflict, the adult whose position of authority requires much more of him than of the nonthreatening teenage girl he assaults. But in truth, the girl who submissively put away her phone showed more maturity than the teacher or the officer. So did the classmate who taped the incident. From my childhood, I have always seen police as helpful, protective, and safe. Of course, I was never on the receiving end of being overpowered. Now that perception is shifting, even in me, a law-abiding citizen.
Who is the adult in the church? As a child in an agnostic home, my few encounters with Christian leaders were kind and warm. I felt safe and loved. Now that perception has shifted. If someone says, “So-and-so is a Christian,” I want to know, what kind of Christian? One who puts rules above people and throws people, hurting, struggling, kind people to the streets in favor or rules?
I’ve seen my fill of it. Ask any LGBTQ person in this country if they have been on the receiving end of that; the answer will be yes.
Church leaders should be trained in compassion, to radically include others as they’ve been radically included. They should be like Jesus, saying, “Come in! God loves YOU! As you are, period! What astoundingly good news that is!” But in truth, it is the marginalized communities I have seen showing that kind of loving maturity more than the church that excludes them.
“Vipers, blind guides, hypocrites!” Jesus was not playing nice with those who hurt innocent people. The presence of a police officer, or a teacher, and a religious leader should say, “Oh good, help is here! This will get better now!” Instead, we are teetering on the edge of that presence saying, “Uh oh, everyone hide!” It’s like a drug raid, except none of us have drugs.
To push back and say, “Those police have to do what they have to do, she should have complied, too bad for her,” has only escalated the tragedy. Of course, I’m not talking about all civil authorities or all religious leaders—there are plenty who are kind, loving, affirming. But when we have regular incidents of brutality like this one, when they are so frequent that we fail to be shocked, and when we have a community of LGBTQ people who have been pushed to the streets, away from families, away from the heart of God, we must address it seriously or we are in grave danger.
Our job as a civil nation, and our job in the church, is to deescalate, bring back balance, increase love and compassion. When we can no longer trust our authorities—civil or spiritual—rebellion is a certainty.
We continue to see people justifying their horrific behavior and the tragic results, with reasons that label the person on the receiving end as somehow deserving, or “less than,” or part of “the others.”
As long as teachers, police, religious leaders, politicians continue with the mindset that they are the privileged, the elite, the ones in power and see the rest of us as less than, there will always be this kind ofgay abuse.
You can try to rebrand it, call it love, call it deserved, do in “in Jesus name,” but it does not change the truth… all of this is still oppression, marginalization and bigotry.
We are all human and we need to begin to see each other that way.