Labeling is wrong

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Like most folks, I kept an eye on the events in Ferguson, Mo., over the last few weeks.
At times, it was hard to watch but hard not to watch, too. It’s also hard not to stereotype when the media primarily focuses on the instigators of chaos as opposed to those trying to do the right thing.
I’ve never had a racist bone in my body, but, like most people, I’ve been guilty of stereotyping, whether it be racial, regional or by college affiliation – although most stereotypes about Alabama fans are true. I kid. My mother and brother are huge Bama fans, and they only buy some of their t-shirts at Walmart.
Most police officers are solid and ethical, yet certain segments of society paint them with a broad brush. They have thousands of encounters each day with sketchy individuals, yet we only hear of their actions when things go terribly awry. Labeling is wrong.
The folks in Ferguson who wreaked havoc on that small town were way out of line, but, according to those in the know, the majority of them weren’t residents of Ferguson. I think they just saw it as an opportunity to flaunt their criminal behavior for the world to see and to pick up a free TV in the process.
I’ve always defined integrity as doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching. If that’s the case, what is doing the wrong thing when everyone is watching? Arrogance, ignorance and entitlement are just a few things that come to mind; however, we can’t judge the citizens of Ferguson for the acts of a few. I learned that first hand following the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
The Ferguson riots paled in comparison to the L.A. riots. I was only 19 years and was on the verge of leaving for basic training. Outside of Hollywood and Magic Johnson, I knew nothing about a land that seemed so foreign to me. I was just a small town boy from Alabama but a small town boy from Alabama who was glued to the TV during the riots. I’ll never forget the looting and burning, not to mention the senseless brutal beating of truck driver Reginald Denny.
I had a very negative impression of the folks from L.A., particularly those from South Central. How could I not? All I saw on TV was the violence and absolute chaos.
Less than a year later, I was a young private stationed in Germany. I was 20 years old and far from home. My mentor was Sgt. Richard Burr. He showed me the ropes and taught me how to be a good soldier and medic. Sergeant Burr was also an African-American from South Central Los Angeles. Labeling is wrong.
It’s hard being away from home, especially during the holidays. Sgt. Burr and his wife Marilyn took me in for two Thanksgivings and a Christmas. They asked me to spend a second Christmas with them, too, but someone else had already asked me. The other guy was a weird Air Force sergeant with a mop top and an eccentric wife, and I just couldn’t tell him no. I’m not saying all Air Force guys are weird, but this guy was. Now Navy guys, they are weird. See, there I go stereotyping again. I really wanted to eat with the family from South Central.
Sgt. Burr had three children, including a young son named Brandon who wasn’t eating his meal on Thanksgiving Day in 1993. He looked over at Brandon, and said, “Son, you need to eat your food. Just think of all the kids in Africa who don’t get to eat like this at Thanksgiving.” I looked over at Rich and said, “They don’t have Thanksgiving in Africa.” He told me to shut up but much to my delight, still invited me back for subsequent meals.
Although I’m still guilty of labeling people on occasion, I have gotten much better, but Navy people and Bama fans make it hard at times. I kid. Well, kind of.
Jody Fuller is a comic, speaker, writer and soldier. He can be reached at jody@jodyfuller.com. For more information, please visit www.jodyfuller.com.

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