Community vs. Snipers

The efforts to stop the sniper killings in the greater Washington area have not been a matter only for the police. When the target has been random individuals, everyone in that community of 4 million residents had to be involved in dealing with the threat.

The challenge: for everyone to be on guard, not only in spotting clues but in helping one another cope with the unusual level of fear and in preventing a perverse erosion of trust.

A retreat into fear – to keep the kids home from school, to restrict all activity – is just what a terrorist-sniper wants. A community in which most people are holed up and afraid can't easily act together to plan better protection for children, or reinforce one another's courage and other community values that are a deterrent to the moral vacuity of such violence.

Certainly people must use rational caution under such threats. The point is to act, not out of helplessness, but with determination – that a sniper's will is not supreme, that the violence won't paralyze a community into not making a powerful response.

A helpful example can be found in Boston from the late 1990s. When inner-city homicides were rising and residents cowered in their homes for fear of being shot, religious leaders rose up in unity and worked with police to create a citywide program to either resist or help those prone to violence.

The prayerful thoughts of a community can generate constructive ideas for action. Prayer also supports law-enforcement officials and counters the media's often sensationalizing effect on public thinking in reporting on crime.

Standing guard against the kind of of fear that can disrupt a community is essential to safeguarding it against terrorism and restoring it once the threat is gone.

The collective power of loving thy neighbor in times of terror will deter those who seek to rip a community apart.

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