When Freedom Means Mindless Obedience
The most recent video as I type this, a snippet of cell phone footage out of a high school in South Carolina, shows former Deputy Ben Fields having an apparent roid-rage tantrum: a teenage girl refused to put away her cell phone when ordered, and then continued sitting at her desk after being asked to leave, so Fields flipped her right out of her chair, injuring her in the process. (Yes, the girl was being willfully disobedient and did break more than one school rule. Teenagers are wont to do that -- if you don't believe me, check any adolescent-psychology textbook of the sort which high school employees are supposed to read before starting the job -- and if you can't respond to a non-violent but disobedient kid without escalating into violence yourself, you have no business working in a school. Or being any sort of cop, for that matter. But I digress.)
What makes matters worse is that the poor girl was already in a dark place: she'd recently moved into a foster home and enrolled in a new school after being orphaned. Everything familiar in her life had already vanished and then, in the depths of her depression, she was violently assaulted by someone who, in theory, was supposed to be her protector.
And her classmates -- who, in theory, are there not just for the academics, but the all-important process of "socialization" -- are learning that authorities will respond to even the slightest hint of disobedience from them with a disproportionate show of force. Which, admittedly, is an important life lesson for anybody coming of age in modern America, especially if they're poor, black or any combination thereof.
And plenty of my fellow Americans appear fine with this status quo. Check any mainstream news websites covering this or any other police-misbehavior story, and in the comment thread you'll find plenty of people, some of whom even post under their own genuine names, siding with the police and pointing out that this could've been avoided if only the girl had immediately obeyed orders without any backtalk or slightest hint of attitude.
Which in itself is sad, but not surprising. What does surprise me is this: among those people who can be reliably counted upon to side with the police anytime such a story comes up, almost all of them can be found in other contexts insisting that America is the Greatest Place in the World because we are a FreeCountry™.