I will never understand the pride that some Walker County residents have when they talk about how dangerous this community is.
I'm not even talking about the "hit man capital of the world" stuff. That's for another column.
I'm referring to the common understanding that Walker County is teeming with violent, fundamentalist rednecks ready to come to blows over a rainbow button or an "Obama 2012" bumper sticker.
And what's worse, it's the folks whose families have been here for three generations who often believe this.
I'll give you an example. A few months ago, I wrote a column bashing a campus cop in California for pepper-spraying a group of non-violent student protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement. My point was simple: Police officers who hurt citizens exercising their First Amendment rights are a disgrace to the profession.
After the column appeared in the paper, someone actually told me I should be concerned that a police officer might try to harm me because of it.
In this job, I'm fortunate enough to get to deal with local law enforcement on a regular basis. Are there corrupt officers among them? I think anyone who reads our newspaper can answer that question. But the vast majority of our local police care far more about helping their community than assaulting a piddly columnist.
I experienced another example of this kind of “beware of the good ole boys” mentality last week. A friend and I were talking about a mutual acquaintance who is considering moving to this area. My friend said the acquaintance, who is openly gay, wouldn’t be safe here.
Now, I don't have a clue what it's like to be gay and live in a small Alabama town. I'm certain such a person would not avoid bullying or harassment. But I won’t believe that I come from a place where a gay person should fear for his or her life or well being.
I certainly don’t intend to portray this community as some utopia with a public relations problem. It's obvious we have more issues than most communities our size, and those setbacks won't ever get better unless we start talking about them.
By and large, however, this community is filled with people who will always put civility above their political ideology, even the poorest and least educated among us — especially the poorest and least educated among us.
If this county does suffer from an extraordinary problem, it's a prevalence of people who wish to make this place seem more dangerous just to make themselves seem tougher.
I suppose a few of them also hold on to this line of thinking because it prevents those who are different from living how they please.
When you make no apologies for how you live your life, it's hard for someone to make you feel guilty about it.
Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org