Racial unrest in York County prompts political action

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

Three African-American women are running for office in York County less than a year after they were driven from a golf course in what they say was an act of discrimination. And they say the incident influenced their political ambitions, though to varied degrees. 

 "(The incident) created a bit of an angst in my stomach and my soul to be active," Democratic prothonotary candidate Sandra Harrison said. "As women and as people who would not normally run, we need to step up because we're all one people and we're all in this thing for the same result."

The group of African-American female golfers, known as Sisters in the Fairway, in April 2018 was asked to leave Grandview Golf Course in Dover Township for allegedly playing too slowly. The police were twice called on the group of five women.

More:Sandra Thompson, another member of 'Grandview Five,' again running for judge

More:Karen Crosby, one of the 'Grandview Five,' announces candidacy for York County commissioner

More:Prothonotary bid: Sandra Harrison becomes second 'Grandview Five' woman to run for county office

The incident received national media attention from newspapers and talk shows and prompted a two-day hearing from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

A pattern? The event coincided with others nationwide, including two African-American men being arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks and a group of African-Americans in California having the police called on them during a barbecue.

Such acts of apparent discrimination have garnered substantial attention in the age of social media and smartphones.

In 2014, Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York City Police officer, drawing waves of national attention and unrest. A month later, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson (Missouri) Police Officer Darren Wilson, leading to protests and acts of vandalism followed by calls for an investigation.

Then in April 2018, York County brought attention to "golfing while black."

Like Harrison, both cross-filing judge candidate Sandra Thompson and Democratic county commissioner candidate Karen Crosby said the incident had at least something to do with their run — although for differing reasons.

"(The incident) made me doubt myself," Thompson said. "But you need to be a banner to the youth and show them it doesn't matter what you experience; pick yourself back up, get back out there and move forward and press on toward your goals."

Crosby said the incident did play a factor in her run but that she didn't want it to define her. 

Hanover Mayor Myneca Ojo, the fourth member of the group, said although the incident took a personal toll on her, it played no role in her run for mayor last year. The fifth member, Carolyn Dow, didn't respond to inquiries for comment.

Spike in minority representation: The three women who did confirm the incident affected their political ambitions have become part of a national spike in the number of women and minorities seeking office. 

This past month, the 116th Congress was sworn in with a record number of women — 127, with 47 being women of color. That includes the first Muslim-American and Native American representatives.

According to the Pew Research Center, the new Congress includes 52 African-American representatives alone, a record high and the first time the representation in Congress has matched the share of African-Americans in the U.S. population at 12 percent. 

Here in Pennsylvania, the General Assembly also has seated the most women in its history, with 64 members, or 24.9 percent — though only roughly 4 percent are women of color.

If the three York County women are elected in November, they would be the only people of color in the row offices and board of commissioners. The county itself is 89.1 percent white, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

Jay Wyatt, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education at Shepherd University in West Virginia, said some candidates contributing to the influx of minority candidates could come from events such as Grandview but that it largely varies on the individual level.

"There are some parallels (between racial incidents and political motivation)," Wyatt said. "But it's hard to link causation and correlation at this point. For these particular women, it seems there is this sort of moment. Local politics is maybe even more often fueled by local issues and uproars." 

The "Grandview Five" take part in a rally at the Dover United Church of Christ featuring Senator Art Haywood and Senator Vincent Hughes, both from Philadelphia, Monday, June 11, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

The recent wave of minority action also isn't historically uncommon, but exposure to racial issues is heightened through social media, he added.

"If you look over the course of American history, you have seen these sort of periods of opportunities for minority candidates," he said. "But a lot of times they've been shorter windows."

One example dates back to the civil rights movement, after which African-American candidates became more prominent in urban areas. 

Such momentum was again found in the 1990s when law professor Anita Hill made sexual harassment claims against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Many dubbed 1992 as the "year of the woman," with a surge in female candidates.

"I believe there's a resurgence of understanding the impact of not being engaged," said Joan Duvall-Flynn, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP. "And I think people now understand again if you want a voice in the quality of life in this country, you've got to speak up. Whatever stimulates that understanding, it is good that it happens."

The psychology: Elizabeth Brondolo, a psychology professor at St. John's University in New York who has studied the psychological and physical effects of racism for two decades, said the three women running in response to the incident are making the best of what she calls "interpersonal discrimination."

Those on the receiving end of racism often can do two things, she said: Either internalize the treatment and take it as an unfortunate reality or use it as a reason to fight for change.

"Discrimination depresses people," she said. "It can make people feel powerless. But when there are alternative visions, including people running for office, it can interrupt the internal psychological cycle that can lead to depression."

Those alternative visions depend on the "perception of change," she added, or how much hope an individual has in regard to the possibility of making a difference. Such hopes can come as a result of being surrounded by others who see change as feasible, and it can also display to others there are people willing to stand up to injustice.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.