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America has an empathy problem

Officer Ben Fields drags the student out of her seat before throwing her across the floor. (photo/Yahoo)

Officer Ben Fields drags the student out of her seat before throwing her across the floor. (photo/Yahoo)

"She deserved it."

As I was sitting in class Friday morning, that was the last thing I expected to hear come out of a classmate's mouth. She and her friend had been discussing the South Carolina incident, where a black female had been forcefully removed from a classroom.

I was in shock.

How can anyone with even a fraction of a brain believe that a young girl deserved to be thrown about by a well-built male officer and forcefully removed from a classroom, a place where she was supposed to feel safe?

It is true that she was being disruptive in class, and did not comply when asked to go to the office after using her cell phone. However, did anyone stop to think that she might be experiencing what we all are every once in a while—a bad day? But who cares? She “deserved it.”

No one thought to bring in a guidance counselor or friend to talk to her, maybe reason with her and quietly take her out of the room. Instead, an officer used brute force and threw her not only out of her chair, but across the floor as well.

In the leaked video, we didn’t see anyone stand up for the girl. At least half the classroom must have been worried that they’d be next if they spoke up, and rightly so. One student who did stand up for her friend was arrested for “disturbing the peace.” But how many others believed what the girl in my class did, that she “deserved it”?

The action the officer took was well beyond what was necessary. And I cannot express this frustration enough: she was not demonstrating actions that would require the use of brute force. She was not running around the class screaming, she wasn’t throwing books or overturning desks, she wasn’t hitting other students or the teacher. She was sitting there. But she “deserved it.”

This girl didn’t need to be WWE body slammed; she needed to be empathized with. But apparently, that’s not something we do here.

‘It’s not a matter of the girl’s color,’ people say. ‘We’re not racist,’ they say. And yet, I find it hard to believe that the officer would have treated a white girl in the same way.

We all have subconscious biases; Harvard has even created short tests that people can take to measure them (I suggest you do, because it’s very rare for anyone to be bias free). Having a subconscious bias is one thing, but allowing it to prevent reasonable thought is another.

Our country has an empathy problem, and this recent situation is just one example of that.

We’ve had so many school shootings that we’ve become desensitized to the idea. Each new shooting is “just another one.” Just another crazy guy… who happens to be white 64% of the time.

Our vocabulary and TV’s are rampant with derogatory phrases against certain groups. Don’t be a Jew with your money. You’re such a thug. Oh no, he’s going to blow me up. These phrases and ways of thinking are not funny, because they are encouraging us to separate people into two categories: “us” and “them.” And that’s a dangerous thing.

It’s said that four of the most dangerous words are “I already know that.” And that's true, because in reality, we don’t.

We don’t know what it’s like to be a young black man in the United States, where wearing a hoodie and walking down the street at night makes you a threat. We don’t know what it’s like to be a Muslim woman repeatedly ran into with a truck as her four children stand by helpless. We don’t know what it’s like to be a student looking down the barrel of a gun being held by someone going through a mental breakdown. We don't know what it's like to be a refugee fleeing war and persecution, only to suffocate in the back of a truck and be left to rot on the side of the road.

We don’t know.

And so, since we can’t literally put ourselves in these situations, the least we can do is have some empathy. We need to educate ourselves about how those around us live, what they endure, and most importantly, we need to interact with them. We need to realize that we don't know, and then we have to go about correcting that.

Because the more we start seeing them as “people like us,” the less we see them as those "other people,” who “deserve it.”

Edit: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the officer weighed 300 pounds.
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