Talking About the Root of Discrimination

Last month the internet was flooded with video footage of deputy Ben Fields slamming an African American student to the ground at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina.

It began when the teacher could not get the student to put her phone away. When he couldn’t get her to follow instructions, the school’s resource officer was called in for help. The young girl repeatedly ignored the officers commands so he proceeded to flip her out of her seat, drag her across the classroom floor and arrest her.

Ben Fields has had a history of acting rough with students. Back in 2013 NBC News reported that Field was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit that claimed he “unfairly and recklessly targets African American Students with allegations of gang membership and criminal gang activity.”

Spring Valley has raised a lot of questions about our policing system. Whether there is a difference between protection and fear. Whether it was reasonable, necessary even, to use such force on a young student. Whether this violence was motivated by racism.

This story is nothing new; the past couple of years have been filled with countless instances of police brutality. Grass roots such as #BlackLivesMatter have taken a place in everyday conversation in hopes of raising awareness on the various ways black lives are targeted economically, socially, and politically in our society.

A few days after the event took place, news spread that the officer was a graduate of Lancaster Mennonite High School. Although the incident did not occur here, discrimination surely is here; it is everywhere. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, African Americans were 66 percent more likely than whites to be stopped by police during 2013 in Missouri.

Where an officer comes from is of no importance because the same incidents have been happening in our nation for years. This isn’t the first time the police have taken advantage of their power; this isn’t the first time black lives were targeted in our criminal justice system. The officer could be from Ferguson, Missouri, Waller Country, Texas, Staten Island, New York, and the list could go on and on. The issue isn’t where the officer comes from, but rather the way the criminal justice system disproportionally targets black lives.

Where does this discrimination come from? The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that more than 240 years of slavery and 90 years of legalized racial segregation have led to systematic profiling in the criminal justice system.

Instead of keeping its people safe, our criminal justice system is mistreating marginalized groups in America because of perceived stereotypes of people of certain race, class, or religion. Injustice has led to law enforcement losing credibility by not meeting the policing standard of serving and protecting. What we see today are citizens participating in grass roots and riots as a means to protect themselves.

Here at the YWCA, we address many issues, and one of our principle missions is eliminating racism. Through our various intensive programs and day events we try to not only define and identify racism, but we try to eliminate it. The YWCA wants to be proactive in solving the embedded systemic oppression that affects the black community in Lancaster.

If you would like to become a part of this dialogue, contact Nick Miron at and ask about YWCA Lancaster’s Study Circle Program.

  • Karolina Heleno, F&M Works Intern