“Get y’all’s cameras out,” Niya Kenny recalled saying to her classmates at Spring Valley High School during a speech on Saturday. The footage, which would go viral, shows a black teenage girl being yanked out of her desk by a public school resource officer and thrown to the ground.
The video sparked a national debate about state violence against students of color. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders used the incident, popularly referred to on social media by hashtag #AssaultAtSpringValley, as an example of the school-to-prison pipeline, and the school-to-prison pipeline, a term that refers to America’s over-policed schoolchildren, who are disproportionately students of color.
Kenny, a senior at the time, told the room she arrested and held for eight hours by police for what she describes as defending her classmate. “I felt like I had to stand up for my sister right then and there,” she said.
Kenny was addressing a United Nations Working Group on People of African Descent panel in Mississippi. She has been an outspoken advocate for school policy reform since the incident took place in October. The working group she addressed was established in 2001 at the world conference on racism in Durban by the Commission on Human Rights to study and eliminate racial discrimination.
“It could have been anybody right there,” Kenny said. “It could have been my sister, my cousin. It could have been me.”
The school resource officer, Ben Fields, was fired over the incident. Before that Fields was the defendant named in a 2013 lawsuit claiming he was “unfairly and recklessly targets African-American students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity,” according to NBC News. According to a press release about the event, Kenny still faces charges.
In the 2011-2012 school year, black girls were suspended six times as often as white girls, according to a report published by the African American Policy forum. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office have opened an investigation into the matter.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.