04/24/2015 11:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Root of Police Brutality is Fear


"At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear that men have of one another as the fear they have of everything." In the midst of desperate times, Thomas Merton wrote these words in a 1962 essay entitled, "The Root of War is Fear." Decades later, these words once again ring true in our own desperation. For an increasingly prolonged period, police brutality has dominated the news and caused everyone to question whether anyone is safe. The death of Freddie Gray is just the latest example. Prognosticators and pundits spend hours upon hours describing our problems and prescribing solutions. In our desperation to say or do something, we have ultimately not said or done much of anything to address the root of the problem. Our attention has been focused on the symptoms without attention to the cause. The complexity of our problems should not mask the simplicity of the solution. We are a people who are desperately afraid of everything. The root cause of police brutality rests solely in our own fear.

Fear of our neighbors causes us to constantly prepare for and perpetrate war. For the last decade, the United States has engaged in endless conflict. We believe that our fear gives us the right to destroy the lives of innocent people all over the world so that we might feel safe. We feel like the deaths of innocent civilians is a small price to pay for achieving the higher goal of a sense of safety. Though the safety is not real, we feel better when guns are firing and bombs are exploding. Too often, we fail to ponder the cost of our fear. The war mentality that we develop always comes home. The military hardware that was used overseas ends up in the hands of law enforcement. In our desperate desire for safety, we arm our police and prepare them for war. Our police carry the same fears that we do. We prepare them to be afraid of our neighbors just like we are. Every person a law enforcement officer comes in contact with is a potential threat. When officers are taught that danger is everywhere, we should not be surprised when they eliminate what they are afraid of. With constant access to lethal force, perceived fears become realized deaths. The bodies will continue to pile up until we do something about the pandemic of fear that has overtaken us.

We are also afraid of what is within our own persons. In a society of shadows, we are so afraid to be real. We know there are always consequences to expressing who we really are and what we really think. Carrying the dishonesty of false living, we put our defenses up against the world and our blinded by our self. We believe that our sole purpose in life is to show the world what we think the world wants to see. In our attempt to fit, we forget what is real and what is false. We become confused. If we cannot trust our self, we know that we cannot trust those around us. Our fears become compounded and we respond by arming ourselves. The resultant deaths in our streets are only a reflection of the deaths that are constantly taking place in the individual souls of the citizens of this nation. Police brutality begins with the fear within.

If we are to make any progress beyond our rhetoric, outrage and partial measures, we must work to put fear aside. Continued cultivation of our own fears will only cause more police brutality. The exorcism that we all need can only be performed by each of us on our own person.