Any liberation struggle, whether small or large, immature or ripe, must contend with a fundamental question: can victory be achieved by discarding a few bad apples, or should we uproot the entire tree?
Put another way: does oppression stem from the actions of corrupt individuals or malevolent systems? If we say the latter, then more radical conclusions will naturally present themselves.
Bearing this in mind, let’s consider the recent termination of racist South Carolina deputy Ben Fields.
After videos of his unprovoked, stomach-churning assault upon a 16-year-old female Black student went viral, demands for his immediate dismissal (or, better yet, imprisonment) spread like wildfire. Luckily, due to the passionate efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, the police department fired Fields within a relatively short time-frame. If this had occurred several years ago, or if recording equipment had been absent, one can only cringe knowing he would have walked free.
On the one hand, this is an important step forward, and will hopefully result in criminal prosecution. Every white supremacist removed from power can only strengthen the battle against racial chauvinism.
On the other: the loss of Fields’ job, in and of itself, will not alter the racist, repressive character of the United States. Nor will it lessen the brutality regularly inflicted upon students of color within the educational system.
From top to bottom, in both open and covert forms, this institution functions to solidify the national subjugation of Black and Brown youth. only a full-scale reorganization of these structures could open the door for freedom and self-determination.
For instance, take the phenomenon known as the School-to-Prison pipeline. Within U.S. schools, youth of color receive harassment and discrimination at every turn, with Black students being three and a half times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts. Consequently, they become alienated from the educational process, which leads them down the path to eventual incarceration by the white supremacist state.
The termination of Fields will not contribute to the end of this system by its own accord. He must be seen and understood as more than just a bad apple spoiling the bunch. He’s a microcosm, one of this country’s centuries-old tradition of racial terror in schools.
We can’t fire enough officers to halt that pattern. Rallying against corrupt individuals can serve as a crucial springboard, but it must be in the service of fueling a mass movement against national oppression and the monopoly capitalist system which reproduces it.
Only then will the racist deputies of the country face true justice, and only then will the millions of downtrodden students taste the fruit of true liberation.