She wouldn’t leave me alone.
It was a few days before Christmas 1975. I had gone shopping in downtown Sacramento when a young Moonie — she was about my age at the time of 19 — was trying to strike up a conversation with me.
I kept politely telling her “no thanks” and walking away but she followed me.
I went into the parking structure and she followed. I was getting a real uneasy feeling. Her spiel became more strident and her body movements more animated. I said sternly I wasn’t interested and picked up my pace. That made her more determined sending a shiver down my spine. Fear was taking over. I finally made it to the car, got in and drove off.
The next summer on my way to San Diego I pulled off in Delano to grab something to eat. I walked into a store and about two dozen pairs of eyes looked at me. I casually walked around the store when one gentleman came up to me and asked why I was in there.
I explained I was looking for a snack. The gentleman, still pleasant, said he was amazed I would do that since I was in a part of Delano where Gringos didn’t go. I went about my business even though folks were still eying me. I didn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable.
Returning home on a trip to Long Beach five years later I stopped for gasoline at 2 a.m. in a new 1980 280ZX with the T-top panels off wearing a three-piece suit. There were perhaps seven people in the gas station including two attendants. They all kind of stared at me. I didn’t think anything of it since at 2 a.m. I’d be cautious about who was moving about near me.
Later when I mentioned to a friend who lives in Los Angeles where I got gas, he nearly had a heart attack. I had stopped in Compton during the early morning hours. He acted as if I were insane.
He demanded to know if I knew how dangerous it was to buy gas in Compton after midnight. I looked at him as if he were crazy.
Fear is an interesting thing.
I literally feared for my life being stalked by a female Moonie who was about half my weight. Yet there are those who would believe I had more to fear from my brief stops in Delano and Compton.
Fear is healthy. It prevents you from putting your hand on a burner given a fear of being severely burned. But fear fed by paranoia drives you to stupid reactions.
I’ll admit when I got back to my car in Sacramento that December evening in 1975 I thought seriously about going to the trunk first to get a tire iron to defend myself. I was convinced the Moonie was deranged and would attack me somehow if I didn’t run off with her and join her cult.
The media at the time was filled with stories of how the Moonies were brainwashing young people and allegedly using force to keep them against their will.
As for Delano, I felt kind of at home. I was raised in Lincoln, Placer County, where a good chunk of the town at the time had fourth and fifth generation immigrants from Mexico plus recent arrivals who labored at the clay products plant and whose kids were in the same classes as I was.
Compton is a different explanation. Back in 1980 there wasn’t a non-stop feeding of crime via social media, 24-hour cable TV, cell phones, and the Internet. It kept things in perspective. While safety obviously drops a bit, most places in America are not inherently dangerous to any larger degree at night than in the daytime even in big cities. Yes, there are certain sections that are domestic Kabuls and Beiruts that you want to stay away from. In reality they are few and far between. Yet our fear fed by paranoia leads us to believe safety levels have deteriorated significantly which, if you check crime statistics, they have actually improved.
Which brings us to the national tragedy involving Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.
Race keeps popping up as a flashpoint. In reality, though, it is fear.
The two aren’t interchangeable. Fear is a cousin of prejudice but it is more potent.
Fear, especially when it is unreasonable, drives people to do stupid things. Zimmerman was living in a gated community where the perception is that it is safer. So why did he need a gun to serve on Neighborhood Watch? While overall crime statistics don’t suggest gated communities are significantly safer, those that live in them certainly believe that to be the case.
Contrary to popular misconceptions that teen-age boys believe they are invincible, they are often driven by fear.
At the very core you have two individuals who reacted to their fears essentially as one would when encountering a bear in the wild. They tried to make themselves look bigger and tougher. It escalated.
There is no rational reason why Martin should have been shot. There is no rational reason why Zimmerman was struck. A menacing gesture, verbal or otherwise, was met with the same. You may classify it as racial profiling, racism or whatever but at the end of the day it is all about fear.
Fear fed by instantaneous communication is a deadly poison.
It makes people react instead of interact.
And that is not a good thing.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.