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Be safe, not paranoid

Safety has become quite a hot button topic among the communities of the bustling Oil Patch. From the increase in sales of home security systems to the growing popularity of personal defense items, the business of protecting ourselves and our families is not taken lightly.

This flurry of activity is undoubtedly propelled by reports in this very newspaper. Such high-profile stories as that of the abducted high school teacher later found murdered or the rape of an elderly woman by a young neighbor are enough to send shivers down the spine.

It's important, however, to remember that as the cities of the Oil Patch grow, these stories remain the exception. In reality, people are not snatched from the street on a daily basis and late-night shoppers are not raped at Walmart, despite the rumor's endurance.

I'm so confident in the falsity of that rumor that my family -- including my wife and infant son -- pays regular midnight visits to our local Walmart. In fact, we find it's the best time to shop as we often have aisles to ourselves and the checkout lines don't stretch on for as far as the eye can see.

But, you may ask, if there is no truth to the rumor, why has it persisted? Personally, I favor the theory of fear. The same fear that causes us to run full speed up a flight of stairs after turning off the first floor lights has helped this rumor live on.

When we allow fear to feed the gluttonous desire for safety, it can damage a community. And let's face it, communities are not made of the same strong fabric of yesteryear. That fabric is weakened further when the community's housing market is outfitted with a virtual revolving door.

To that end, Dickinson is cracking.

I didn't need to read a letter to the editor warning of a man who got out of his car, opened his hood, stood in front of his car and then drove away (sounds like car trouble to me) or hear the story of a woman who called police about a man near a local elementary school who turned out to be the father of a student to know that this community is fracturing. I've already seen it myself.

You see, as long as my wife accompanies our baby boy when we go out, our family receives lovely little smiles from passersby. The smiles continue if I'm alone with my son and I'm in my work attire (dress pants, a button-up shirt and a tie). But when I walk with him in open-heeled summer shoes, shorts, a T-shirt and a five o'clock shadow, I've seen many what's-he-doing-with-that-baby stares, especially if he begins to cry as weeks-old babies are want to do. I have literally been watched as though I've just shoplifted a baby.

Perhaps I shouldn't place full blame on those giving me and other men the look. Society has taught us to judge a book by its cover and many of us are just trying to navigate the white water rapids of a booming population.

If I have a point to make this week, it's this: Be safe, not paranoid. Every person in Dickinson and the Oil Patch is not out to hurt you. The vast majority of oil workers are here to make money for themselves or their families and we have no reason to fear them. It's OK to learn how to protect ourselves and to purchase tools that will help us to that end, but turn off the speculating eyes. That helps no one and does very little in the name of good.

It may be hard to strike the balance but I have faith in Dickinson. I've heard and experienced so many good things here, and I am proud to say that my son is a native of this city. I'd like my level of pride to stay that way.

Byrd is The Dickinson Press copy editor.