BE SAFE!

Be Safe! I heard this while out and about the other day. As I traveled to foreign countries, I consistently heard the statement, “Be Safe!” The thought that many Americans have about other countries is that they are all “more dangerous” than we are. That somehow traveling abroad would make one more susceptible to violence.

It made me think back to my own travels and experiences. Traveling to Norway and Brazil several times was quite an experience. I made work trips alone. Yet, I never felt unsafe. I can recall going for a jog in Stavanger relatively late several nights and never feeling like I would have to worry about being robbed or kidnapped. In fact, Norway is one of the safest places in the world. They have some pretty unique benefits of being a native or resident. College students attend state schools for free. Norwegians have a healthy work-life balance, and fathers receive a considerable amount of paternity leave when having children.

All that said, one thing I learned was about how safe the country of Norway was. You rarely see police; in fact, police issue more parking tickets than anything else. What struck me most about my time there is I never felt harassed by police or felt targeted. The gun laws are relatively strict there as well. You cannot obtain a gun license until 18 and you cannot receive a handgun until the age of 21. To get a gun, you have to even write a letter explaining why. Guns are required to be locked in a gun case and police have the right to inspect homes where guns are thought to be improperly secured. The statistics as of 2012 showed at 1.75/ 100,000 people died as a result of gun violence. That statistic is unheard of.

It made me think of how often before traveling, family and people who haven’t had the opportunity to travel abroad automatically assumed the places I visited were dramatically more dangerous. They uttered similar words to the man I overheard earlier this week.

However, when I look at my experiences in America, my experiences have been far more dangerous, or maybe it feels that way. I can recall being a 20-year-old attending a pool party and exiting the car and walking to the pool meeting with a gunman who mistook me for someone else. Thank God he took the opportunity to speak to me and realize I was not the one he had a previous altercation with. In that instance, I realized my safety, or so I thought I had was relatively non-existent. He was carrying a semi-automatic handgun. Something you would need if going to war, not protecting yourself or your home.

On a work trip in 2014, a UK colleague shared his last US trip, I was shocked. He was actually quite nervous about returning. He mentioned that on his first visit while doing what I had done in Europe (going for a late-night run), he was pistol-whipped and robbed. It was so disheartening to hear this story. I can’t imagine his experience and the difficulty he had in the remainder of his first trip. Losing your wallet, means of payment, and identification while traveling abroad is not a fun experience, let alone being assaulted with a weapon and having to make a hospital visit.

I still recall the night I was walking down the street after parking near a local bar I was meeting friends at. A cop rounded the block, lights flashing and randomly stops me. “Put your hands up!” he yells as his hand is on his gun and he and his partner approach me. “Put your hands on the car!” he says and I comply. I am searched and as I am searched, I nervously ask, “Officer, what am I being stopped for?” He replied, “You are in a high prostitution and drug trafficking area!” Those words still burn me to this day. I’ve worked my entire life to contribute to my community and to uplift those around me so I would not participate in either of those professions (they demean, degrade, deflate, and murder communities). It is in that instance I felt unsafe in a city, in a state, and in a country I have lived in from birth. I have never committed a crime. I have never succumbed to being a stereotype and I have never disrespected an officer of the law. It is at that moment that I did question what I should do after his response. My pride and integrity were hurt, battered, and I felt like someone had spat in my face.

What does this have to do with safety, one might ask? In America, we have a view of the world that is relatively different from others who live across the globe. I would encourage those concerned or overly concerned with things like gay marriage, women’s right to choose what they do with their body, and whether or not Nene will leave RHOA to pick a cause that impacts more of us. Take up a cause on education, a cause on better gun laws, and/or legislation that protect citizens no matter their race or culture.

I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities I have had in life to be able to travel and explore different parts of the world and different cultures and, most importantly, to learn. In America, we like to think we have a considerably “better” standard of living! We are a blessed nation, but we could certainly be better. Be Safe!