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Fear too much of a factor lately

by Ogi Overman

Last Wednesday as Leonard Simpson and I walked out of the WXLV/WUPN studio after taping Jim Longworth’s show, ‘“Triad Today,’” a group of folks were huddled around a TV watching CNN. The news had just broke that air marshals in Miami had shot and killed a passenger on an incoming flight. Naturally, the first question everyone asked was, ‘“Is it terrorist related?’”

Turns out it wasn’t; the poor sap was bipolar and off his meds. He was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. And now he’s dead.

As Lloyd Bridges might say, ‘“Picked a bad day to give up antidepressants.’”

Chalk it up as another innocent victim in the so-called war on terror. Only this fatality was not the result of Iraqi insurgents but of friendly fire.

I’ll not try to reconstruct the exact sequence of events here, but rather leave that to the official inquiries that will no doubt follow. Nor will I pass judgment on the air marshals, except to note that they did, in fact, kill an innocent man. I’ll grant that it was a bizarre chain of events and circumstances: a) the flight was coming from Medellín, Colombia, so he could’ve been a smuggler; b) he had a Hispanic name; c) his behavior on the plane was said to be erratic; d) and he reached into his carry-on bag after being warned. It is unclear whether or not he said he had a bomb.

On the surface it appears that the air marshals overreacted, but, again, I’ll leave that to the courts. No, my purpose here is to point out that this is simply one more example of the fear-based society that we have become.

In a touch of irony, one of the questions Jim had posited to Leonard and me in the roundtable discussion moments before was, ‘“What’s your reaction to the government’s lifting the ban on scissors and small pocket knives on commercial flights?’” Our response was essentially the same: that the government had overreacted in the first place, that securing the cockpit door should be of prime importance, and that terrorists will not likely use 9/11 tactics the next time they strike.

So just when it seemed that some of our national paranoia was lifting, it rears its head again in the Miami airport.

But there is another ironic element here: The 9/11 Commission had just issued its report giving failing grades to the government in numerous areas of homeland security. We have concentrated (in my opinion, ‘wasted’ is the more proper verb) so much time and money on preventing another 9/11-type attack, that virtually every other conveyance for creating mass terror has been ignored.

So what happens but a guy gets gunned down in an airport because someone heard the word ‘bomb.’

All this reminds me of an instance in my childhood when the neighborhood bully decided to make me the object of his terror. For awhile I would ride my bike home from school on a different route each day, convinced that somewhere in Burlington, behind some bush or parked car or fence, he was lying in wait, ready to pounce on me as I pedaled by.

Oh, it wasn’t paranoia ‘— he really was out there. Then one day, in a flash, he was right there in front of me. I couldn’t swerve and I couldn’t speed up. I was a caught duck. I was down to my final option, which was to put ’em up and hope to land a lucky punch and run like hell before he could get me down and start pummeling me. As I stood there trying to act tough, I thought one last act of diplomacy might be in order, so I said, ‘“Hey, Joe, whaddaya got against me, anyway?’”

He replied, ‘“Nothin’. I just wanted to scare you.’”

No blows were thrown and life got less complicated again. Joe and I never exactly became buddies, but a few years later I did write a letter to my high school newspaper on his behalf. Turned out he’d decided that being the town tough guy wasn’t working for him anymore and he’d become a Jesus freak. He’d gotten suspended from Williams High School for handing out religious tracts on campus, and I took it as a violation of his free speech.

Now, some 40 years later, I’ve become the US and Joe the Arabs. We’re living in fear because of a perceived threat from a bully. We do everything we can to avoid being attacked, rather than trying to get to the root cause of our foe’s misplaced aggression. We allow ourselves to be inconvenienced and intimidated while the bully lies in wait, planning his attack.

Yet, nobody ever stops to ask the question, ‘“Whaddaya got against us, anyway?’”

We might be surprised at the answer.

Ogi can be reached at ogi@yesweekly.com, and heard each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. on ‘“The Dusty Dunn Show’” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen most Fridays on ‘“Triad Today’” at 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. on WXLV and WUPN, respectively.

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