03 Jan

By: Neosho C. Ponder, PhD




When a video of a 16 yr old student being assaulted by a school police officer in Spring Valley HS in Columbia, SC goes viral, we lost our breaths…AGAIN. It was a common case of an insubordinate student versus school administrators until the cameras started rolling and the student’s physical assault was caught on tape. Nyia Kenny, a fellow student, filmed the incident and encouraged others to do so as well. While witnessing her classmate being assaulted, Kenny attempted to defend the girl and was subsequently arrested for ‘disturbing school.' Several questions come to mind; many of them are redundant in today’s climate of police brutality:

  • What would give him the audacity to assault a child for refusing to participate in class?
  • Why was Nyia Kenny arrested for a crime and not disciplined by the school?
  • What IS the school disciplinary policy?
  • Why wasn’t the student’s parent/guardian notified BEFORE the officer was called?
  • Why was the officer not removed from the school following prior complaints and lawsuits citing excessive force?
  • When will students (children) of color be treated like children and not adults on the streets?

While there were several issues at play, including a non-compliant student, assault, apathy from the teacher, and other students watching in utter shock, Nyia Kenny’s arrest in attempt to stand-up for her classmate needs to be addressed. She was arrested, booked, and posted $1000 bail for simply speaking out. Even though, the charges may get dropped, the experience of being handcuffed and arrested for taking actions to defending a fellow student will be a lasting memory. We are gasping for air…

In May, an eighth grader was arrested and detained for six days…for throwing Skittles on the bus.

In March, a 10-year-old, autistic girl was handcuffed for disrupting class by climbing on tables and out the window.

A recent report from Talking Points Memo found that the percentage of Black students in a school determines number of officers placed in schools.

Where do we go from here? In addition to being televised and in color, the revolution will be recorded, tweeted, and shared; however, until systemic change occurs, this revolution will only exist online. I can only hope that Nyia and her classmates are not dissuaded from speaking out or recording injustices. The system, yet again, has failed our babies.

The video was seen around the world and yet there is still work to be done. Through TREE’s economic core issue, there is an underlying injustice in the arrests of these students. Young people are arrested and released on bail or fined. Parents and guardians are paying for their child, who was unjustly detained, to get out of jail for the crime of speaking out. Nyia’s is not the only one, but she is one of the few we hear about. By shedding light on the racial injustice and the financial impact that families are enduring, TREE hopes that readers will understand that these injustices are not limited to just race, but also economics.


This blog is part of TREE's #westillcantbreathe campaign, which uplifts stories about the intersectionality of TREE's three core issues areas (Entertainment and race, Environmental justice and, Economic justice).  For more information about sharing your story, please email communications@restoringempowerme

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