top of page

It’s wise to fear the living more than the dead


By Tara Yilmaz

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices - to be found only in the minds of men.

Rod Serling - The Twilight Zone: Episode 22- The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

Growing up in a family deeply-rooted in Southern lore meant everyday life consisted of maneuvering around superstitions and old wives’ tales;

“Don’t put your purse on the floor… you’ll lose money that way.”

“Don’t sweep a broom over his feet… he’ll never marry you.”

Or tales of the Headless Horseman, not to be confused with the Washington Irving story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” with the loveable fictional character Ichabod Crane. But a demon

Headless Horseman was told by African Griots (storytellers) during the time of slavery in America. These superstitions and old wives’ tales were passed down in my family from generation to generation by my grandmother Dolly James. Mostly tales of paranormal experiences, but there was an underlying theme to them all.

“It’s not the dead that should be feared. It’s the living,” my grandmother used to say.

→ Did you know Mass hysteria is a condition affecting a group of persons, characterized by excitement or anxiety, irrational behavior or beliefs, or inexplicable symptoms of illness? Since the dawn of mankind, there have been instances when one irrational thought, belief, or unfounded accusation led to mass panic, civil unrest, or worse – violence.

→ Did you know the Salem Witch Trials, which took place in 1692, are a case of mass hysteria? They began when two ill girls were told their fits were caused by a supernatural source. Under the influence of the most powerful men in their community, magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, they accused enslaved women of color, homeless women, and elderly, impoverished women of bewitching them. This sounds like a twisted fairy tale, but it happened in real life. All three women were jailed.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, magistrates pressured a 4-year-old girl to give evidence against her mother, “and her timid answers were construed as a confession.”

The article went on to say that a total of 19 people were hanged and a 71-year-old man was pressed to death with heavy stones. Several people died in jail and nearly 200 people were accused of witchcraft because of the hysteria sweeping Salem.

→ Did you know the threat of coerced confessions and false accusations are still problematic today? The Innocence Project estimates 1% of the U.S. population, which translates to approximately 20,000 people currently held in prison, are falsely convicted. The organization was founded in 1992 to free the innocent, prevent wrongful convictions, and create fair, compassionate, equitable systems of justice.

As of this date, 2,624 people in the United States have been exonerated for wrongful convictions since 1989, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

Tactics such as false testimony and denying a request for DNA testing have been used to deny people’s freedoms unjustly. All the while, the people who actually perpetrated those crimes walk free to hurt others.

The thought of being convicted by a false eyewitness is a frightful enough reason to lose sleep at night. Having no idea that across town in a police station, someone you’ve never met or know, might possibly blame you for a crime you didn’t commit.

Just like my grandmother used to say “It’s not the dead that should be feared. But the living.”

bottom of page