Recently an attempt to break in to a local church occurred. Members first thought wind damaged the back doors. Further investigation showed a lock had been jimmied. One might assume it was a case of youth vandalism — objectionable, but not dangerous in our relatively peaceful community. However, the church membership is predominantly African American, and our neighbors are worried.
Their fear is reasonable. The crime might have been a targeted, racist act. The increasing anger and threatened violence common in our country, our state and our community paint a dark background. In 2015, a congregation of their denomination witnessed nine members killed by a racist during a prayer service.
We hear about random acts of violence against individuals and groups by perpetrators who are deranged, inebriated by alcohol or drugs, or just plain mad at the world and anyone who gets in the way.
In other instances, individuals and groups are targeted because of prejudice against some ethnicity, race, religion or class. Four Muslims are killed in New Mexico, Jewish men are attacked in New York, participants in gay parades are abused in several locations, pedestrians are run over because of road rage, and 1,400 people have been shot so far this year in Philadelphia. The country is on edge, and fear increases.
We prefer to pretend it wouldn’t happen in Crawfordsville, and no reason exists for us to be afraid. Nevertheless, we stop shopping at some places because of recent violence — e.g. Lafayette Square Mall or Circle City Mall. A year or so ago, a Confederate flag fluttered in front of a house on the same block as the church. Threatening flags, messages and decals decorate trucks cruising down our streets with rifles racked in the back windows. Wabash College students from ethnic groups hear racist comments shouted at them from passing vehicles. They feel a little safer wearing Wabash shirts or jackets, but hesitate to walk around Crawfordsville by themselves. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” Words do cause fear.
The congregation began to wonder if they should have more locks and procedures to protect them if confronted by an active shooter. Local law officials, organizations, schools, government offices and businesses are surely considering such steps. Meanwhile, citizens worry and become fearful. Most of us do not want to live in a community full of hatred and fear.
As individuals and as a community, we need to deal in constructive ways with this evolving problem.
It is wise to be aware of one’s surroundings and take precautions. It is never my custom to frequent bars and clubs, nor go out “on the town,” never between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., when many acts of rage and violence occur. Even so, walking in daylight up a dirt track to a Buddhist shrine in Hong Kong and down a gloomy path to a concert at a Hindu temple in Madras for research, policemen offered to escort me. More danger lurked than a stranger realized. Be carefu.
Contact the police if something harmful is threatened, planned or occurring. Our local police are a reliable resource. Three policemen, who responded immediately Tuesday to the report of attempted break in, were professional, courteous and helpful.
Local officials, leaders of churches and organizations, and business leaders — and each of us as individuals — must do all that we can to lower the temperature of arguments, discussions and political discourse so that our issues and misunderstandings can be mediated and defused.
We are glad that we live in a relatively safe and peaceful community. Just shaking our heads and complaining about rage, anger and fear gripping the country and gradually seeping into our community is not enough. Each individual must do what we can locally to promote harmonious relations between individuals and groups, lest we be overwhelmed by fear.
Raymond B. Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.
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