On Oct. 15, a cell phone video captured what students and graduates of Hickman High School will tell you happens too often: a fight between two students being broken up by either a police officer or an assistant principal. But what made this fight newsworthy was the fact that it was recorded and posted on YouTube and, more importantly, the manner in which it was broken up.
In the video, Officer Mark Brotemarkle can be seen pulling the girls apart and throwing them to the floor, pinning one of them to the ground before handcuffing her. It was later learned that one of the girls, Diamond Thrower, was actually trying to break up the fight, not perpetuate it. Brotemarkle left the school for a few days before returning on Oct. 20. The Columbia Police Department is currently investigating whether or not the force he used to break up the fight was excessive.
Let’s face it, fights happen at high school, and Hickman High is no different. It is necessary to have resource officers in schools where fights occur so they can break them up and other students will not be harmed. But was it necessary to break them up in such a violent way? It’s understandable that resource officers must think quickly so that students are not harmed whenever a fight breaks out, but there’s a fine line there.
I went to high school in a suburb outside of Kansas City where a fight occurred maybe once a semester. We had security officers there to pull the kids apart, but nothing like this ever happened. Maybe two girls got into a fight over a guy, but security was there to pull them apart. Maybe a boy threw a punch at another boy, but the wrestling coach stepped out from his history class and pulled them apart. No one threw them to the ground and pinned them down. Is the strategy of solving violence with more violence really necessary? Do the students really need to fear an adult who is supposed to help protect them from harm?
This is the concern several community members are trying to voice in their recent protests. Parents are worried about the safety of their children and whether or not Brotemarkle is really the best man for the job.
It's strange how it takes a video taken with a cell phone to have these issues come into the public light. Should the community deal with Brotemarkle’s “unnecessary force” or with the amount of fights that break out at Hickman High?
Yes, I believe, Brotemarkle did use unnecessary force when he broke up the fight, but getting rid of him will not get rid of the fights that occur at the school.
Is a harsher punishment for students who are involved in fights the answer? The Columbia Public School District and administrators from junior and senior high schools met on Oct. 27 to discuss changes in the disciplinary policy. Previously, a student involved in a fight could have gotten a three- to five-day suspension. Now, any student involved in a fight will automatically get a 10-day out-of-school suspension. If a student endangers or assaults a faculty member, they could be suspended for an entire school year. Students who encourage fighting will receive punishment as well.
Will these changes help at all over at Hickman? Will removing the troublesome students for a 10-day out-of-school suspension help decrease fighting incidents? According to Dr. Wanda E. Brown, the assistant superintendent for secondary education, when the student returns to school, there is a “re-entry conference.”
“The principal would have the student and the parent come into the office to debrief to make sure everything is fine and to do a little reflecting,” she said in a telephone conversation. “They decide how to proceed and go forward from there.”
Yet, what do the students do while they are out of school for 10 days? Simply removing students who start fights will not solve the problem completely. There needs to be some sort of intervention, some program they must follow either during their suspension or after it ends. Perhaps it could come in the form of an after-school class or a one-on-one with a guidance counselor, or anything. It all sounds nice in theory, but does the Columbia Public School District have the funds and the manpower for a program like this? And if they did, would it really work?
School administrators and resource officers will never be able to completely keep students from fighting. Even in the best of schools, kids are going to push each other around and maybe even throw punches at each other. Having resource officers break up fights with “excessive force” may not be the best way to keep these fights from happening again. Harsher penalties for fighting are needed and the addition of a required class might help the suspended students from getting into another fight once they return. Of course, in order for any sort of class or program to become a reality, the resources must be given to the schools. And how long has it been since public schools got the money and manpower they needed?
For now, administrators at Hickman can only wait and see if the new 10-day out-of-school suspension policy will have an impact on their students or not.
Lauren Titterington was a reporter for the Columbia Missourian on the Muse beat in the summer of 2008.