Fear that Divides

I can’t say just how sick I felt yesterday when I scanned this morning news and discovered that a traffic stop in a nearby suburb ended in the death of Philando Castile. His death, recorded live on Facebook, was quickly sent viral around the world. In the video his girlfriend both defends and explains his actions to the policeman who continues to have a gun pointed inside the car.

I wanted to believe that stuff like this happens in other parts of the country. I know too many good police officers to believe that what happened this week in Minnesota is the norm. Fear – Fear of the other – Fear of a person who is different – Fear of another’s intentions can twist our sense of reality. We see the world with a lens corrupted and shaped by our fears. The innocent gesture of Philando Castile to reach for his wallet, is perceived as a threat once the officer learns he has a permit to carry a weapon. What ought to have been a simple traffic stop and a warning ticket for a broken taillight escalates when fear grabs hold of a mind. Our fears remove us from our common humanity. We no longer see the person in front of us. We see instead a threatening enemy.

Neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean came up with the term Reptilian Brain to explain the emotional, unreasoned reaction we have to a perceived threat. It is the instinctive response which can do great harm . . . the one which reason would overrule, were we to give our mind enough time to process a situation. In the heat of the moment our minds don’t always respond wisely or well.

By the end of the day another tragedy was unfolding. A peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas turned deadly when a sniper targeted police officers. He especially wanted to kill white police officers. Five officers died, seven were wounded.
Sometimes, I wonder how we got to this place. Other times I wonder how I could have been so naive as to think we had moved beyond the civil rights era in race relations. What I am certain of is our need as a nation to heal. We need to see all of our neighbors as our brothers and sisters.

When asked the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31) Jesus didn’t leave anyone out. He was referring to people of every race, creed and orientation . . . including people who get stopped because of a bad taillight, and police providing security at a Black Lives Matter rally. As Christians we have the responsibility of being people who build bridges of understanding. We have the duty to see all our neighbors as God’s children.