Thursday, February 4, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1495: Wrestling with fear and facts

  Facts don’t stand a chance in the face of fear. Fear just bowls over facts like a bulldozer over outhouses. Facts don’t stand a chance when facing fear.

  I have fought fear many times. In the last two weeks I fought against fear on two occasions.

  I was called by a reporter in Mobile, Ala. He asked if Perry County was in my senate district. I said that Perry County is indeed in Senate District 23 which I represent. He explained tuberculosis cases had been reported in Perry County and some schools had refused to go there to play basketball games. This was the first I had heard of this situation. I told the reporter that I would get back to him. I wanted to get the facts even though I knew facts don’t stand a chance in the face of fear.

  I called Perry County School Superintendent John Heard. He said that there were no tuberculosis cases in Perry County Schools. However, there were tuberculosis cases reported in the county and two schools had refused to come play basketball games. I also talked to Interim State Health Officer Dr. Tom Miller. He said that tuberculosis cannot be communicated just by going into a place to participate in a sporting event. There has to be more direct and sustained contact. He also said that this information had been previously provided to school officials. But facts don’t stand a chance in the face of fear.

  I called the reporter back and reported the facts. He was skeptical and wanted me to talk with another television reporter. She wanted a statement for the newscast. She asked me what would I say to students, parents, school officials and others if I could talk directly to them. I said, “I understand your fears. I respect your fears. I know fears are powerful. However, I want you to know that you are not in danger of catching tuberculosis by going to Perry County. There are no cases of tuberculosis in the schools. More importantly, you cannot catch tuberculosis by going to the schools as athletes, cheerleaders, officials or spectators. There is no danger." The games remained cancelled. Facts don’t stand a chance in the face of fear.

  Then I received a copy of a news article reporting that Dallas County and Houston County reported some of the highest levels of lead in the country. The headline screamed: Two Alabama Counties Among Highest Lead Poison in the Country. The story stated that the lead poisonings were much higher than in Flint, Michigan. It further stated that seven of 12 children tested in Houston County had lead levels high enough to qualify as lead poisoning. The article contrasted that to Flint, where it reported four of 100 children tested positive. The article further reported that one in three children in Dallas County had tested positive. This news came in the midst of national news stories about the high lead levels in the tap water of Flint, Michigan. The Flint water is a massive scary mess.

  Senator Harri Anne Smith, who represents Houston County, and I were very concerned. Dallas County has seven water systems, and Houston County has eleven water systems. These high lead levels could affect the health of our people, especially children. It could also impact the coming of tourists who boost the economies of these counties. In the long run, it could hamper efforts to bring additional businesses and jobs to our areas. We were working hard, but facts do not stand a chance in the face of fear.

  Senator Harri Anne Smith and I talked to Dr. Tom Miller. He said that the water is regularly tested in all of the systems in both counties. The water did not contain high levels of lead. Moreover, the reports involved did not even involve water. These limited cases probably came from the paint used in houses constructed before the early seventies. It is not the water. But facts don’t stand a chance in the face of fear.

  The truth crawls while lies fly. Fear provides powerful wings for lies. Truth has to forge a way through the brush of fear. The lie: children and others are in danger if they visited Perry County for basketball games. The truth: children and others are not in danger if they visited Perry County. The lie: people in Dallas and Houston counties are in danger from drinking water because of high lead levels. The truth: the water does not contain dangerous levels of lead in these counties, and the lead detected probably came from lead paint in houses constructed before the early seventies. But facts based on crawling truth don’t stand a chance in the face of flying fear created by lies.

EPILOGUE – Fear is a powerful force. It is more powerful than facts. However, fear is not more powerful than hope. Hope still forges on when fear has come and gone.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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