*This piece was inspired by the final courtroom monologue given by Matthew McConaughey's character from the movie "A Time to Kill."
I want to tell you a story.
I'm going to ask you to close your eyes while I tell you this story.
I want you to listen to me.
I want you to listen to yourselves.
This is a story about a teenage girl sitting in class one afternoon in the fall at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina. She is Black. I want you to picture this teenage girl. You don’t her name. You can't see her face. But you can imagine she’s like many teenage girls these days. Sitting in class, she may be daydreaming about hanging out with her friends. Maybe she's thinking about who she will message via Snapchat later that afternoon. She could be mentally reciting lyrics to her favorite song or thinking about what she wants to be when she grows up.
The School Resource Officer is called into her classroom. He begins to yell violently at her.
She’s sitting still when suddenly he races up to her chair. He grabs her. He wraps an arm around her neck then viciously pulls her from her leg violently causing her to jerk up out of her seat. The desk overturns. She lands on her back with the desk on top of her--body splayed out in the air, tangled in a mess of limbs and chair legs. He drags her several inches across the classroom floor, using both hands to pull her by an arm and a leg. He makes his way, still dragging her like a wild animal attacking its prey, to the front of the classroom. He has turned her over onto her stomach and is leaning into her back and grabbing her arms to pull them behind her. He outweighs her by several tens of pounds.
Looking at it you cannot help but hot tears come to your eyes. The image is accompanied by very painful memories. This is the kind of position that some sexual assault victims know very well, many of whom have been attacked from behind. In a single, swift instance their sense of agency and control is stolen from them by someone bigger and more powerful. Its a singular moment that changes their lives forever.
It looks and feels like the girl is being violated. She is being violated.
Violated in front of her peers and teacher. Violated in front of an entire country who will later witness it on the news and through social media.
Stunned, no one can bring themselves to stop it.
He pulls hard on her arms and they look like they are going to come off. He handcuffs her. Her fellow classmates stare on in silence. Risking arrest, one brave classmate decides to record it. It is like a scene out of the TV show "Oz" or one out of "Lock Up Raw" or something out of a prison movie. But this is not fiction or a documentary. This is happening, on an ordinary day, to an ordinary Black girl in her high school classroom in the American South.
Can you see her?
Her scared, abused, beaten and damaged teenage body. Violated by a school police officer. Humiliated in front of her peers. By an adult sworn to protect students. Left to be arrested and deal with the media frenzy that is about to ensue.
Who knows what kind of trauma this will cause? Who knows the impact it will have in the future? She will likely never feel safe in school again. If she hadn't already been, she most assuredly will fear the police from this moment on. She may even fear men for the rest of her life. In just under a minute, her teenage innocence and sense of safety have been stolen from her-forever.
Can you see her?
I want you to picture that teenage girl.
Now imagine she's white.