On ‘being in fear’ for one’s life

Susan K. Smith.2 9
Susan K. Smith



Crazy Faith Ministries


The mantra used by law enforcement officers all over this country as justification for shooting unarmed Black [and Brown] people – that they were “in fear of” their lives is as disingenuous as it is dishonest.

History shows that it has been White people who have been the perpetrators of horrific violence against Black people for hundreds of years and have seldom been held accountable for it. Police officers have too often been either involved in mob violence against Black people, or have stood by and watched without doing anything, and have then arrested Black people as the perpetrators, according to a CNN report.

And even without a mob, Black people are statistically shot and killed by White officers at a higher rate than are White people, NBC News reported.

In 1927, during and after a deadly flood in the Mississippi Delta, White people grabbed guns to make sure Black people did the work needed to save White people – and White profits – from the devastating effects of the flood, NPR noted.

While we give a lot of attention to police violence against Black people, what we don’t talk about is the prevalence and commonality of White mob violence perpetrated against Black people. Black people have been targeted and murdered so many times simply because their shooters have known they could do it and get away with it, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.

History being as it is, then, it is puzzling as to why White people are always the ones who are afraid of “violence,” which means, to most of them, violent and non-violent acts carried out by Black people.

Black protests erupt periodically because of the pent-up and built-up frustration at never being heard, always being looked and passed over, and always getting the worst treatment by the systems of this country. The relegation of Black people to second class citizenship in this country has never abated – and never will. White supremacy demands that there be an underdog, a group of people deemed less human so as to justify the subhuman treatment they receive.

Amazingly, in spite of how poorly and unfairly Black people have been treated in this country, the acts of violence are seldom carried out against White people but, rather, against the businesses and systems that have held them captive. What Black protests are, are cries for equity and fairness and pleas for the racialized unfairness to stop.

It is what any oppressed group does when the empire in which it finds itself continues its oppressive practices.

So, why are White people always saying they are “in fear for” their lives? Yes, that cry might be valid if an officer is standing face to face with a Black person who has a gun, but these cries of “fear” come up even when the person ultimately killed has been running away, and when the person ultimately killed is a young, Black, unarmed child. Why is it that the very sight of a Black person makes police officers – and, it would seem, the White, conservative, evangelical community – immediately afraid?

The only thing that seems to explain their irrational fear is the reality of karma. They know what their system has done to Black people over centuries, and they are afraid of payback. They know how their predecessors lynched Black people [including women, some pregnant, and children], have attacked entire Black communities – including their homes, their businesses, their churches – and their lives. They know how they have been silent in this society that has a “wink and a nod” attitude toward the way Black people are treated. And they know that there is such a thing as karma.

The phrase “I was in fear for my life” ought to be eliminated as a viable excuse for White people to commit murder of people they do not like. I imagine the phrase will be heard even more as people are deputized to search out women who they think may be seeking abortion, and doctors who are willing to help them. The phrase allows those who would murder innocent and unarmed people to do what they want with a smirk, knowing this justice system will never punish them for what they have done.

Perhaps if those who are so afraid would begin to try to figure out how to treat all human beings as human beings, this fear would dissipate. But I wouldn’t try to tell them that; their fear has prevented them from being able to hear that perhaps they are wrong – and that perhaps those who protest have legitimate reasons to protest and that they deserve to live in this system that makes it difficult for them to even survive.

Karma is sniffing, and that can’t be good for those who are living in the comfort of dishonest privilege. And I think they know it.


Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. And she is an award-winning author for her latest book, “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America,” available through all booksellers. Contact her at revsuekim@sbcgloba.net.



Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.