I always remember having a soft spot for people who were being picked on or bullied in some way; people who didn’t do anything to deserve the negative attention, they just got it because something about them was different.
In my early school days I can recall kids being tormented because their clothes were not the nicest, or they lived in a shabby house, or because their last name happened to be Doolittle. I felt it unfair then and I still feel that way. Then there were children being abused by parents too.
I grew up in a tough neighborhood in a small Midwestern town in Illinois, a town that had an all-white population in the 60s and 70s. I had every opportunity to be a racist considering the environment I grew up in, but it was something that just wasn’t inside me.
In past years when I travel home I’ve found out Blacks live in my home town now. One particular day I was putting gas in my car and I looked over to the man gassing his car up across from me and noticed he was black. I remember feeling somewhat surprised by what I was witnessing and very proud at the same time. My home town had finally stopped bullying people I thought to myself.
I worked as a reporter for the newspaper, covering police, courts and county government. One day I was talking to my editor about the lack of homeless people I town. I said “I rarely see them here, but see them nearly every other place I go.” The Editor told me the reason I didn’t see them is because the police department would pick them up and drive the over the Illinois River Bridge and drop them off on the side of the highway. Across the river they were in Peoria County so it was no longer our city’s problem.
The following day at the police station after hearing the morning crime report. I asked an officer, I said, “what do you do with the homeless here?” He told me they find them, put them in their squad car and drive them over the bridge. Then release their handcuffs and tell them not to be seen in town again.
So, there went my theory that my home town had changed. All they had done is gone from picking on one group to picking on another.
Today, I find myself being more a crusader for those being unfairly persecuted. In fact, I’ve taken it to a whole new level. When I hear someone being oppressed due to the color of their skin, their gender, their lifestyle or their religion it angers me. The soft spot I have for the oppressed does not carry over to the oppressors. In fact, I feel nothing but distain for them.
I had been fighting smaller battles up until recently, but now I find myself standing in defense of LBGT, The American Indian, Persecuted Muslims and Jews, undocumented immigrants, women and so on. In today’s America many people need protected or defended against the senseless hate that is be perpetrated upon them, and much of this hate, I’m sad to say, is coming from the people who ae supposed to represent us. Hasn’t anyone told them they serve and protect all Americans, not just a chosen few?
During all the turmoil and hate I also see good people standing up, lending a hand and lifting their brother or sister up in whatever way they can. Hard times bring out the worst in some people, but it also brings out the best in others. I’m optimistic, I believe we far outnumber the bullies. We just have to open our hearts and be the best we can be, and remind the powers that be that what they are doing is unacceptable.