Be Thankful And Fearful And Know Your Place, Citizen
Free-Range Kids offers a story of a man briefly detained by a police officer because (allegedly) somebody reported him as a potential kidnapper of his own daughter, who was pulling at his hand as they walked:
The cop gets out of his car, says “Sir, please step away from the child,” then proceeds to crouch down and ask her if “everything is okay.”
After re-asking a few times, getting a more and more nervous “yes” each time, he stands up and informs me that someone had called 911 reporting what looked like a young girl being abducted. My daughter and I both explained what was really happening, and not only did he not even apologize, he chastised ME for not being, and I quote verbatim here, “More thankful someone was watching out for my daughter.”
As numerous commenters at Free-Range Kids and at Reason point out, a competent officer could have handled that encounter in a far less intrusive manner. But the problem is not merely that the officer used authority and the threat of force where friendliness would have done the trick: it's the officer's entitled parting shot, the suggestion that we mere civilians should be thankful for the irrational fears of our fellows and the willingness of police to overreact to them. We should be happy that people will call the cops on us because our children yank at our hands as we walk, and grateful that police will detain us as a result.
I've been lucky on this one so far: though my kids don't look like me, nobody's called the cops on me yet. I've gotten odd looks and suspicious stares in public, but no police interventions. Other people with multiracial families are not so lucky, and, like the man in the Free Range Kids story, have encountered law enforcement entitlement and resentment of criticism.
There's a few problematical trends going on here. The first is the sick culture of fear, encouraged by the media (because fear is lucrative, and accurate contextual reporting is hard) and by law enforcement and politicians (because fear leads to more power for them). That culture has led us to accept, uncritically, the existence of an ever-growing level of danger to ourselves and our children, even if actual evidence supports the opposite. The second problematical trend is the culture of self-esteem and self-congratulation — the notion that our feelings (including feelings of irrational fear and suspicion) are to be coddled and celebrated and treated as legitimate whether or not they are premised on fact. Law enforcement and politicians deliberately harness this phenomenon through the "if you see something, say something" campaign, which explicitly encourages people to indulge in flights of fancy about how innocent and innocuous events might be sinister. The third problematical trend is the "Think of the Children!" mentality, the regrettably widely accepted premise that things done to protect children ought not be questioned, even if the things are utterly irrational and have no actual salutary effect on the well-being of children. Finally, the fourth problematical trend is the culture of entitlement among cops — the feeling that mere civilians ought to take what they dish out, shut up, and like it.
Anyone who has ever walked with a young child knows that young children struggle, tug against your hand, yank your arm, and generally behave in a deranged fashion. The cops, hysterics, and Mrs. Grundys of the world want us to accept the premise better safe than sorry — the premise that it's a good thing that some person saw a little girl tugging at a man's arm and vaulted to the conclusion "kidnapper!", and a good thing that a police officer followed up with a show of authority and force. Too many people agree. But I dissent. I don't think it's a good thing. I think it promotes dependence on government, increased law enforcement power, and the normalization of irrationality. I think that the facts do not support the supposition that hordes of kids will be abducted if Mrs. Grundy exercises self-control and critical thinking, or if the cops do. I think that we have been terrified into a lamentably cringing and servile condition. I am not "thankful that someone is looking out" for my kids; I am disgusted that someone wants my kids to be as irrationally fearful and dependent as they are.
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