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Law enforcement needs to be held accountable for their transgressions

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Illustration by: Israel Gonzalez | Staff Illustrator

Police officers have had a rough year, and it just continues to get worse. Instead of changing their policing, enforcers double-down and continue to solidify the public’s increasing dissatisfaction and distrust.

On Oct. 8, 14-year-old Gyasi Hughes was violently slammed to the ground at Round Rock High School by Officer Rigo Valles following an attempt to deescalate a fight between two students.

The video shows the boy touching the officer’s hand. The officer consequently goes into a savage rage, grips the teenager’s neck, takes him to the ground and proceeds to cuff him.

The officer is now contemplating his actions as he sits on administrative leave. Hughes had no weapon nor did he attack the police officer. The action did not justify the reaction.

The officer used excessive force. There is no reason to handle a non-hostile teenage boy the way the officer did.

This situation serves as a model for a greater discussion of state violence against citizens. A minor dispute between two teenage boys suddenly turned into a violent situation because an officer had a chip on his shoulder.

A high school is not a place for an adult man to take his anger out on the impulsive behaviors of adolescents. Fights happen all the time. Placing hormonal teenagers in an educational, stressful environment is sure to lead to conflicts—it is up to the adults in the school to reel them in.

The point of having law enforcement officers in high schools is to facilitate the de-escalation of a situation. Officer Valles did the opposite—instead of deescalating the situation, he exacerbated the conflict. Schoolyard fights are not an American epidemic. A huge increase in deathly school brawls does not exist. The officer’s response was not only excessive, but also unnecessary.

From 2009-2010 there were 17 homicides of youths committed at school. Meanwhile, over 1,000 citizens are killed each year by the excessive force of police officers.

Valles should have been more concerned about his own misconduct than that of the child he attacked for daring to touch his hand.

Police used to be the people to call on, but given their track record, now people have to wonder whether or not calling law enforcement would actually be the safe alternative. Their over-inflated egos combined with the seemingly obsessive infatuation with violence have taken a toll on their credibility.

The race of the child is important to note. There has been a rash of state violence against black bodies which has garnered increased media visibility over the past year. This situation is no exception.

While the point of law enforcement is regulation, officers disproportionately police the expression and bodies of people of color. Most specifically, in this case, black people.

According to research conducted by the American Psychological Association, black boys are viewed as older and less innocent than their white counterparts. White people—namely white police officers—view black children as young as 10 to be guilty and dangerous.

Given that information, it is really no surprise Valles reacted the way he did to Hughes. In his eyes, the 14-year-old appeared not only much older, but less innocent— even guilty.

Black children are dehumanized and stripped of their innocence and the errors that come with youth and adolescence. That led Valles to confront and attack Hughes as if he were his physical and mental equal—a fully-grown man.

Law enforcement should not work this way. They swore to serve and protect, not spurn and reject. A child should never be made to feel unsafe in the presence of an officer of the law—especially one called upon to curb a hostile situation.

If officials purposed to uphold the entirety of the law cannot be trusted, then where do people seek refuge? Where do they go to get help? A change needs to happen. A 14-year-old should not be the latest face of police violence. The line needs to be drawn somewhere—and it’s here.

Given the socio-political climate, this situation could have ended with a far worse outcome. Thankfully, Hughes is not another statistic, another faceless black body in the morgue of police violence and indifference.