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S.C. Community Discusses Police Action At School Board Meeting

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And let's go to Columbia, S.C., where school board members say they're troubled by videos that surfaced this week showing a uniformed school resource officer violently removing a student from a class. While official investigations are underway, educators and parents have plenty of questions of their own. Here's South Carolina Public Radio's Laura Hunsberger.

LAURA HUNSBERGER, BYLINE: The cellphone videos, broadcast all day long on TV networks, showed a white deputy approaching a black student sitting in a classroom. He was trying to remove her for being disruptive. The video showed him grabbing her neck, flipping the desk backward to the ground, and then dragging her. Last night, educators in Richland County had a regularly scheduled board meeting. Parents and residents turned out to voice their concerns.

JIM ROBINSON: They're going to try to make this issue to be a racially charged issue.

CONNIE STREETER: I don't see this as a race issue at all. This is a civil rights issue, basic human rights.

KYLE LASSIO: It was racially motivated. For us to deny that, we're denying the history of our state.

HUNSBERGER: That's Jim Robinson, Connie Streeter and Kyle Lassio. A lot of people were angry but stayed mostly civil. At the meeting, almost everyone agreed that what they saw on the videos was not OK. Some spoke out to support the deputy involved, saying they don't he think was motivated by racism. But with several high-profile instances of excessive police force across the U.S., some speakers like James Flowers say this event is part of a larger narrative.

JAMES FLOWERS: Parent, black parents, I know, especially, have a talk with their sons, especially, the talk. Anybody know what I'm talking about...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yeah.

FLOWERS: ...Where you say, when the man comes, you do what he says and all that stuff, OK, you understand that? Here's the problem. It's not your responsibility for the police officer not to use excessive force against you.

HUNSBERGER: Flowers is a member of local law enforcement. He says officers need to be better trained to de-escalate a situation, especially when dealing with students. School board chairman James Manning says they plan to re-examine the line between discipline and criminal matters in schools.

JAMES MANNING: One, we are going to evaluate, reinforce and strengthen our training of our school district personnel with respect to when it's appropriate to involve school resource officers in our school situations.

HUNSBERGER: For now the FBI and the Justice Department have opened a civil rights investigation to examine what happened in the classroom on Monday. For NPR News, I'm Laura Hunsberger in Columbia, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Hunsberger began her career in radio in 2010 at WHQR in Wilmington, NC and received her MFA in Creative Writing, Nonfiction from UNCW. In 2012, Hunsberger began working as Associate Producer for the NPR and South Carolina Public Radio program Song Travels with Michael Feinstein. In 2015, she became a staff reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, reporting on statewide and national news and covering the historic floods that hit South Carolina in October 2015.

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