Hard Candy – Equality

Originally published in print (June 12, 2014) and online (June 11, 2014) for the Gabber Newspaper.

So, it’s summer time, which means more grilling, later sunsets, and a lot of sand in my car. It also means we have a lot more kids roaming the neighborhood and that it’s time for PRIDE. I am proud to be a part of a community where equality matters.
Which is why it’s so hard for me to write this column.
Last week, the Gulfport chief of police and I were chatting about the recent bike thefts, and he said, “Well, bike thefts always increase this time of year, when school gets out.” I pointed out the only two arrests police had made in relation to those thefts were adult men. Adult white men, I’d like to point out.
I mention the “white” part because I’ve heard more than one person blame “that group of black kids” riding their bikes around town, and it bothers me. Actually, there’s a lot I hear that bothers me about how our loving community assigns blame and demands action.
First, to those of you who say the judges should throw the book at the kids committing petty crimes (I believe someone actually suggested punching them in the throat and shooting them): Kids don’t learn not to be criminals in jail. They learn that from their parents and, failing that, they learn it from their community. If you want a child to take the better path, include them in society, don’t condemn them. If you’re concerned about crime, help show kids how to make the better choice. Donate money or time to Gulfport Pirates, or Little League, the Childs Park YMCA or any number of youth organizations. 
Second, please don’t assume it’s all black kids. The two men arrested were white adults. It’s tough enough being a black kid in south Pinellas without every ignorant person blaming you for things because of your skin color. I hear people bitch and bitch about kids today being too tied to their phones and video games and not playing outside “like we did when we were kids,” but when they see kids riding their bikes or walking around outside and they happen to be black, all of a sudden, its a group of hoodlums. 
Every time I hear about roving bands of black kids stealing bikes I have to wonder, would we tolerate it if someone said “gay” instead of “black”? 
Pretty soon, we’ll send a trolley full of LGBT supporters to PRIDE, and we do a fine job of patting ourselves on the back about how we absolutely, positively do NOT discriminate about anyone living an alternative lifestyle. We do, however tend to ignore some of our mid-20th-century views about black people. I overheard a gay woman say, “I know it was the black family because they’re poor and they have a lot of kids.” While I understand that isn’t how all gay people sound or that being gay doesn’t mean you have no prejudices of your own, that someone who has likely experienced the harsh realities of other people’s prejudices would so brazenly express her own alarms me.
Look, if you’re a bigot about everything, I won’t try to change you. I have better things to do with my time. But as for the rest of us, how about extending our acceptance (or, for some of you, tolerance) of people who don’t look and act exactly like us to include black people?
It’s called equality, and it’s long overdue. I believe we’re familiar with the concept. 
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.