Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields

Where is Michael Fields today? What has he done? Has he killed someone?

Michael Fields was my student in a Harlem elementary school years ago. He was placed in my 4th grade class with a file folder bulging with anecdotal records of his violence in and out of school. Numerous warnings about his dangerous behavior were properly recorded from the school’s guidance counsellor to social workers to local police to church authorities.

“He’s all yours now,” the principal smiled as he introduced me to Michael in the middle of term. Apparently, his previous teacher had run out of patience, or whatever else was needed to control him. Now it was my turn.

In the beginning he was relatively calm, much like any other student. He was only ten, but with a highly developed street sense of testing the waters. Slowly, he upped the ante. First there was taking goldfish out of the class fishbowl watching them struggling, then dying in his hand. Soon complaints came from parents that he was “bothering” girls on their way home from school. I learned that he was also attacking strangers in the street with a baseball bat, including a pregnant woman. I properly reprimanded him, as any conscientious teacher would have done.

As he upped the ante, I upped the ante. When he started becoming violent in class towards other students, I would call the principal and ask for a fire drill. In New York City, fire drills were the only time adults could physically touch or restrain a student. He and I would have our private “conversations” at the back of the line while the class obediently marched down the stairs. I could even tease Michael, asking, “Does anyone smell smoke?” and he would calm down.

Each time I found another way to control him, but only for a short period of time. Eventually I made an appointment to see his mother. She listened attentively as I explained the situation. When I had finished my litany of his transgressions, she took me over to the window of her 5th floor apartment. “See here,” she said. “This is where I pushed Michael’s father out the window in self-defense. Just got tired of him beating me. Michael was sitting right next to the window when his father went out.”

She explained that Michael had been thrown out of her church for violent behavior, seen guidance counsellors and psychiatrists, and had been suspended from school several times. She plaintively looked at me, staring into my eyes as if to ask if I had any solution.

Why am I thinking of Michael now? The horrible shooting in Parkland, Florida, has produced renewed calls for gun control with greater severity towards people with mental illness. The more we learn about shooter Nikolas Cruz, the more we wonder how he was able to purchase an Ar-15 semi-automatic rifle. Although Cruz had no criminal record before the shootings, stories are coming out of a childhood full of violence. Sheriff deputies had come to his house several times; neighbors complained about his violent outbursts. Classmates tell of being frightened in his presence; he was finally expelled from school. The FBI investigated a menacing threat posted on YouTube by a certain nikolas cruz.

Cruz’s story reminds me of Michael Fields. After meeting his mother, I went to the experienced principal asking for his advice. He just smiled, nodded his head and said it was my responsibility to keep Michael under control during the school day. There was nothing more he could do.

Soon after, unexpectedly, the principal came knocking at my door and entered the classroom with a huge smile. “I’ve got it,” he announced. “I’ve solved the Michael Fields problem. I discovered he no longer lives in our school district so I had him officially transferred to another school. He’s no longer your or our problem.”

Where is Michael Fields today? What has he done? Has he killed someone? He was a time bomb, just like Nikolas Cruz. I wonder what I should have done, what could have been done, just as the people in Parkland, Florida, are wondering what they could have done to prevent the shooting. We should all campaign for gun control, but how can we campaign to help people with mental illness? What ever happened to Michael Fields? Could I have done more to help him? How should others have helped? How many Nikolas Cruz are out there? How many Michael Fields?

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South