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In the Boxing Ring … at School

Should students at American high schools pack boxing gloves?

Ben Fields, who made headlines in October by upending a seated 16-year-old female high school student, tossing her to the side, then dragging her toward the classroom door, has been fired. This school “officer”, presumably employed to keep minors safe from well-armed attackers – generally, white male adolescents – was videoed in his actions by students too appalled and scared to stop him… using mobile phones. The alleged infraction of the girl whom Fields assaulted? Failing to put away her phone. Luckily, the moment Fields arrived, other students began to video him. The ironies abound.

Americans have mixed reactions. Some law-and-order types believe Fields was well within his rights. They see the girl as a trouble-maker (for refusing to set aside a small piece of electronics?), and despite her reputation as a quiet, no-fuss student grieving after the recent deaths of both her mother and grandmother, think Fields’s response was not disproportionate.

Many other watchers disagree. The girl was causing no ruckus, they say, the class was in no way threatened by noise-making or disruption, and the teacher should have been able to guide his class effectively without calling out the big guns of Fields, whose nickname at school was “Officer Slam”. That nickname itself is telling.

Also telling is his weight. Fields, who also acts as the school’s football conditioning coach, reportedly weighs 300 pounds and can bench press 600 pounds. According to World Boxing Association measurements, that puts him in the heavyweight category, its top ranking. The high school student looks like she weighs no more than 150 pounds and perhaps much less. At 150 pounds, she would be designated a super-welterweight.

When was the last time you saw two distinctly different weights meeting in the ring? Never. Never.

Had the two people both been male, in a training gym, they would not have been allowed in the same ring, even during sparring practice, because the risk of harm to the smaller boxer would be too great. No responsible coach or gym owner would permit such a meeting.

Yet some people lauded Fields for upending, tossing, dragging, and presumably injuring the girl. Would they do the same for a Mike Tyson (heavyweight) in the ring with the much-lighter Oscar de la Hoya? No way.

Much has been made of the fact that although Fields is white and the student is black, Fields could not be racist – or sexist – because his girlfriend is allegedly black. (If there is such a woman, I hope she has moved on.) That assumption flies in the face of experience. Racists often have intimate relations with those they despise – nearly every Confederate slave-owner did, in order to increase his investment by impregnating women he controlled – and sexist men can be married with daughters.

We all anticipate a lawsuit. It would be hard for the student not to win in court when Fields’s supervisor, Sheriff Leon Lott, reportedly said that watching the video footage made him want “to throw up”. From a sheriff, those are powerful words.

Students should not have to face school with fear. To fear the men – and some women – charged and paid to protect them is ridiculous and horrifying. To fear bodily injury from a school officer who far outweighs you is outrageous.

To those of you who thought the muscular, 300-pound Fields was acting responsibly: Get outraged.

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