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Fears exploited by Trump evident in Rice case

"The Wiz Live" wasn't nearly as good as the movie version. Why bring up the production a month after it was televised? Because the song "Be A Lion," sung to the Cowardly Lion character, comes to mind when I think about the United States at this point in its history. In so many ways, we're acting like a nation that is running scared. Add our fear of another 9/11 to the lingering economic trepidation left by the recession and you find a country that has forgotten it's still a lion.

I'm not the first one to point out how Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is mining fear for votes. He constantly pounds on what's wrong with this country to promote himself as the only person who can make it right. Despite his complete lack of qualifications to lead this country any better than he led several businesses into bankruptcy, Trump is his party's frontrunner. His supporters don't believe evidence that this country has reduced the threat of terrorism and become stronger economically under President Obama. They prefer to believe Trump's doom-and-gloom prediction that America is on the eve of destruction.

This pervasive fear feeds the mindset of people advocating for a return to the Wild West, when folks felt naked without a rifle in the buggy or a pistol strapped to their side. A Texas open-carry law became effective with the New Year, which means licensed gun owners don't have to hide their holstered weapons. The statute also adds Texas to the seven other states that specifically permit concealed weapons on college campuses. While advocates believe a strapped college student or professor might reduce the carnage in a mass shooting, it's just as likely that even more people would be hit by stray bullets coming from multiple directions.

Fearful Americans are turning their homes into camera-monitored arsenals. Burglar alarms make sense, but it's not as if hordes of robbers are about to breach the walls. Again ignoring reality, seven out of 10 Americans believe crime has increased, according to a recent Gallup poll. The opposite is actually true. Crime in America has consistently gone down each year for two decades, but you wouldn't know it by watching most local TV news programs. They continue to follow the "if it bleeds, it leads" mantra to captivate audiences. While some cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles, are experiencing more murders, they have become anomalies. Many cities are safer than they have been since the 1990s.

Could it be that these oversized fears are a factor in some recent police shootings? That's not a disparaging comment on the men and women in blue who put their lives on the line daily to protect the rest of us; it's an acknowledgement that police officers are just as human as anyone else -- and just as likely to let fears overtake training in certain situations. It's not unreasonable to believe fear took charge when two Cleveland police officers who, within two seconds of confronting 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot him because they believed the pellet gun he was carrying was a lethal weapon. A grand jury refused to indict the officers on criminal charges, but it's hard to believe the city of Cleveland will escape civil penalties as a result of their conduct.

There have been a number of similar incidents in recent years in which police officers appeared to fire their weapons prematurely. Many of the shootings involved unarmed black men who were killed, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., whose 2014 death sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. While police brutality has long been considered a fact of life in some African American neighborhoods, the number of people killed in recent incidents begs for an explanation. Is it a lack of training? Or is it that even though crime is down, some officers feel more threatened? Could it be that, as it is with the rest of America, they are allowing fear to distort reality?

The reality for America is that despite 9/11 and the Great Recession; it remains the most powerful nation on earth by almost any criteria, especially militarily. That it has not won the war on terror declared by President George W. Bush has more to do with his calling it a "war" in the first place when the battle is against ideology, not a nation. That fact has been driven home by the actions of homegrown terrorists who don't need to hijack planes or cross borders to sow death.

Fear is a natural emotion that should not be ignored, but it can be controlled. Soldiers must control fear in war. Police officers must control fear when they confront danger. And a nation must control fear when politicians try to exploit it. America is a lion.

Harold Jackson is editorial page editor for The Inquirer.