Someone’s gonna get a hurt real bad | Photo: slgckgc, CC BY 2.0
In this week’s Feminist Friday post, Elle asks at least one question we really shouldn’t have to ask: do we need public service announcements reminding people not to body-slam one another?
When I was in the fourth grade, I had a brief period in which I tried to become obsessive with what was then-called the WWF (the World Wrestling Federation, not to be confused with the thing that helps pandas)1 in an attempt to be on the same wavelength with the adolescent boys who made up my entire friend group. (Wee!Elle was not at all wee, was a tomboy, and was incredibly socially awkward. She had few friends, and almost all of them were boys. She may or may not have felt an empathy for the wrestler Chyna.) Even at that age, I knew that the story arcs were fake, but it seemed like a lot of the pain was real. One of the moves that I couldn’t believe happened was the body slam; one wrestler picking another one up and slamming him into the mat. I wasn’t super great with anatomy, but I was pretty sure that there were a lot of important bits (like, say, your brain and squishy internal organs) that would be badly damaged by that, even in a “fake” fight. My WWF phase was short, but I never expected that, 18 years after it ended, I’d be watching footage of body slams all over again. But this time it would be footage of a police officer body slamming a black teenage girl.
The footage of the incident shows school resource officer Ruben De Los Santos wrapping his arms around the girl’s torso, lifting her above his head, and slamming her on the ground. She lays there for a few moments, stunned, before he picks her up by the arm where she dangles like a doll until she gets her feet under her and clutches her other arm to her chest, just in time for the officer to begin pulling both arms behind her back. According to other students, the girl had been trying to protect her sister, who was one of two girls who had gotten into a fight. The officer responded by repeating a move that is most familiar from fake wrestling and the UFC.
The student allegedly experienced bouts of unconsciousness and a concussion after the event. The officer experienced administrative leave.
Nia Evans writes that this incident is not the first sign of trouble in Wake County, North Carolina, where the event took place. Previously a lawsuit was filed against the school district claiming that the policing in the schools unfairly targeted black students and students that had disabilities. The district supposedly increased police training following the lawsuit but uh… maybe that didn’t take.
When a friend posted about this on his Facebook, another person responded something about how the girl probably didn’t respond appropriately to the police officer, and said the same things about “respect” that get trotted out every time a police officer hurts one of the people they are supposed to protect. I responded by reposting something that I’ve seen going around a lot lately:
Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority” and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person” and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.
To be clear: respect means treating someone like a person. If someone doesn’t treat you like an authority, you still have to treat them like a person. Crazy, I know. That includes not body slamming teenage girls.
Both Evans and Dana Bolger also connect this incident to a larger system of discrimination that seems targeted at girls of color. Bolger writes:
“The U.S. Department of Education reports that Black girls are five times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls, schools are three times more likely to suspend Black girls with disabilities as white girls with disabilities, and Black girls are more likely than students of any other race or gender to be suspended more than once.”
Since black girls are obviously not worse behaved than other students, the culprit is (also obviously) not the students themselves but the structures and authorities around them. Bolger points out that black girls are often the victims of everything from racist dress code policies (such as Butler Traditional High School in Kentucky, which not only banned many natural hair styles predominantly worn by black girls, it also misspelled them) to vague injunctions about attitude problems (because black girls are automatically assumed to be angrier than their white counterparts, and this anger Must Be Fixed).
And as you might expect, being discriminated against in school has negative consequences. Who would have thought? When girls are taken out of class for imagined infractions, they end up with lower grades and increased chances of dropping out or ending up in juvie. (Not to mention having an early brush against an unfair power structure can basically dishearten you for life.) And while this discrimination is tooootally illegal, it still happens. (Kind of like how sex discrimination is illegal but the glass ceiling is totally a thing. Weird how that works.)
If we want schools to be an actually equitable place of learning, we have to abolish sex-specific dress codes and behavior rules, school policing rules that allow physical restraint, and racially biased rule enforcement. Which I’m sure will happen with our incoming Attorney General and Secretary of Education. (That was sarcasm. I don’t know if people can tell anymore because my soul is dead.)
1. The WWF has since renamed itself the WWE, “World Wrestling Entertainment,” after losing a trademark lawsuit to the thing that helps pandas.
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Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not pointing out serious injustices so we don’t start thinking we’ve “got this racism thing covered,” she studies gender in popular culture.
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