Our nation is in a crisis of fear. It seems every time there is an incident between law enforcement and African Americans, the word fear is somehow applied, either by the police or by the offenders. We are witnessing the word’s misuse expand into every aspect of our lives. Even more shocking is how it is being applied when creating public policies.
It is my understanding that fear incites uncontrolled reactions, and it can be blinding and stop any chance of identifying the truth — so responding to our issues out of fear only increases the fear. For example, our leaders know the street gangs, illegal drug suppliers and repeated criminal offenders in communities, but they refuse to directly confront them and stop their activities because doing so may not be popular, safe or politically correct.
One of our great challenges is teaching ourselves and our children how to handle and control fear. That’s why it is frustrating to see so many groups and public officials using messages of fear to gain support from the general public. Historically we have been warned by many officials about controlling and using fear. In his 1933 inauguration speech during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his autobiography that fear was necessary and a good motivator when used properly, but that when its impetus was envy, hatred or insecurity, it blinded people to the truth. It is sad and irresponsible that former and current federal officials use fear to critique systemic racism — but when they had the authority to reform our system, they chose rhetoric, not reform.
As an African American, I at one time feared the police, so I understand that. I also understand that being a single mother can sometimes be difficult, but what I hear from young men is that they were raised by their mothers to fear the police, to refuse to cooperate with them and to run from them if possible.
When I realized that fear can come from lack of understanding, I chose to learn about the police careers in order to change my viewpoint. If we are going to change our culture in order to move our country out of this trap, we need to choose truth, not fear, as the motivation for change.
Recently a close friend received a gift of hope from a 9-year-old girl with the words “Inhale courage, exhale fear.” I wonder what she understands that the rest of us don’t.