Niya Kenny has set a powerful example for the nation. She was arrested for standing up to a school resource officer when he viciously assaulted a fellow Spring Valley High School classmate in South Carolina. The video of the incident has sparked national outrage.
We should be outraged — by this incident and the plight of black girls nationwide.
As Kenny, who is 18, explained: “I had never seen nothing like that in my life, a man use that much force on a little girl. A big man, like 300 pounds of full muscle.”
The rest of the student witnesses seemed traumatized and paralyzed.
Her classmate’s alleged crime: failing to hand over her cellphone and refusing to leave the classroom. Officers have since claimed the girl punched officer Ben Fields, but if her flailing does include a hit, it occurs after the officer puts her in what appears to be a chokehold.
This sickening episode is only the latest in a nationwide pandemic of anti-black police violence visited upon black children, African American girls especially.
In light of the fact that Congress and President Barack Obama have yet to enact a single policy aimed at protecting this at-risk population, we should consider the state of black girlhood in the United States:
• Black girls are suspended from school at six times the rate of white girls. (Note: Black boys are suspended at three times the rate of white boys.)
• In places such as New York City, the African American Policy Forum found that disciplinary cases involving black girls were 10 times as common as cases involving their white counterparts.
• Forty percent of black girls have been sexually coerced by age 18.
• Sexual abuse of black girls also serves as a pathway to prison, as girls forced into sex-work are then criminalized for their exploitation.
• Black girls are among the fastest growing part of the juvenile justice population.
• Although black girls account for 14 percent of the general population, they make up 33.2 percent of girls detained and committed.
• Homicide is among the leading causes of death for black females between the ages of 15 and 19.
Enough is enough.
Now is the time for everyone to stand up for justice for black girls. We must demand that the school resource officer on the video not just be relieved of duty but also that he be charged for his brutality.
The charges against the Kenny should be dropped, and her arrest record must be expunged. She should not be criminalized for standing up against racist brutality. Charges against her classmate should also be dropped.
President Obama must use the resources of the federal government to create and implement effective policies that will empower and protect black girls. Specifically, lawmakers should start a national campaign to review and revise school practices that funnel students into the justice system, equalize federally funded initiatives so that they support at-risk girls and boys, and cultivate programs that identify early signs of sexual abuse so that young victims are supported rather than incarcerated.
It is also time for Loretta Lynch, the first African American female U.S. attorney general — who got her position in part because groups of black women flexed political muscle on her behalf — to actively investigate these injustices and to start putting bad cops and those who cover for them behind bars.
We need to stand up for America’s black girls not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because of how vital black girls, and the women they go on to become, are for the country, whether it’s Bree Newsome ripping down a racist symbol of domestic terrorism or Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, three black queer women, who organized mass action by boldly declaring #BlackLivesMatter, or the women in the BlackOUT Collective bearing their breasts to get America to #SayHerName.
We have to fight for all of our girls.
We also need to learn from mothers such as Doris Kenny, who said of her daughter Niya’s actions: “I’m not mad at her. She was brave enough to speak out against what was going on and didn’t back down, and it resulted in her being arrested.”
I’m not mad either. I am outraged we inhabit a world where heroic young women such as Kenny are the ones arrested, rather than the cowardly authorities who prey on black children.
No more of this America. No more.
Kali Nicole Gross is an associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at The University of Texas at Austin.
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