I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. -- from Frank Herbert’s Dune.
It seems as though, right now, we are consumed by fear.
Fear of COVID-19 has dominated our lives since March when the first of nearly 350 Kershaw County residents was officially counted as having contracted the coronavirus. We also fear COVID-19 due to the deaths of 13 of our neighbors from the disease.
We fear the coronavirus as well for the disruptions it has caused in our lives, making us wonder, “What’s next?”
And that brought us to the next fear we have been facing in just the last two weeks. It is a two-pronged fear.
On one side, there are people who are afraid that George Floyd’s murder -- and there is no other word for it -- on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn., will be repeated and lead to their murder or the murder of a loved one at the hands of rogue cops.
While, from my perspective, overall progress has been made in terms of having elected a black president and many other milestones, that fear is a legitimate fear and should never be dismissed because, for centuries -- not years, not decades, but centuries -- black people have been mistreated, including murdered, by white people for nothing more than the color of their skin. Those murders have sometimes taken place at the hands of mobs; sometimes at the hands of the very people sworn to protect them.
It is a harsh truth, but it is the truth.
And it is just as hard a truth to recognize that white people are experiencing fear as well.
When they see violence erupt across the country, including just down the road in neighboring Columbia, they fear that such violence -- rioting, looting, vandalism, perhaps worse -- will happen here.
So, when rumors swirled Monday of a protest being put together in Camden that afternoon, people -- including officials -- did not know what to think. That led to some unfortunate, but also somewhat understandable, decisions on the part of county government and school district officials, as well as business owners.
The county shut down the Kershaw County Government Center, courthouse and nearby library earlier in the afternoon. The Kershaw County School District had Camden High School cancel its graduation rehearsal for that afternoon. Business owners and employees urged each other to close up shop and board up windows.
It was all unnecessary.
“Why couldn’t they give us the benefit of the doubt?” That was the question Camden City Council candidate Franklin Alexander, who is head of the Kirkwood Community Progressive Organization, asked me when he learned of these reactions.
Event organizer Jamiqq Tucker, only 24, made it clear he wanted no part of any violence: “We just want to be heard.”
Ironically, the first half of Monday’s protest was powerfully silent.
That protest ended with a march -- escorted by the Camden Police Department and joined by Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd and Kershaw County Sheriff Lee Boan -- to Camden City Hall. Some more speeches were given and then... they all left.
There were no riots. There was no looting. No one was hurt.
Monday went so well, Tucker wanted to give those who missed it a second chance to participate. Tuesday afternoon, at 4 p.m. again, he and some others got together at the courthouse, held up some more signs, and had conversations with Camden police officers about setting up community meetings to bring everyone together in even more meaningful ways.
This time, they marched -- with officers -- to a barber shop on South Broad Street. There, the police department offered children’s activities, including coloring books, while Tucker and Kershaw County Council candidate Brenden Hinton brought food.
It was all completely peaceful, and yet, I saw at least one nearby business boarded up.
Could Tucker, Alexander and Hinton done a better job of communicating with the wider public to let them know exactly what they would -- and would not -- be doing on Monday and Tuesday? Perhaps.
On the other hand, would anyone have believed them?
That brings me back to Alexander’s question: Why couldn’t we give them the benefit of the doubt?
Fear will obliterate us if we do not face it, let it pass over us and then see that there is, really, nothing there.
The way to do that, here and now, is to treat each other with respect as fellow human beings and not as “others.”
(Martin L. Cahn is editor of the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/martin.l.cahn.)