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Mistaken Langley luring incident resulted in overreaction | LETTER TO THE EDITOR
To the editor:
Re: “Luring Report turns out to be false” (South Whidbey Record, May 15).
Did anyone else have a strange uneasy feeling when reading this article? It was a story about a grandmother stopping at a bus stop in Langley to offer a fourth-grade girl a ride to school, and how this triggered an island-wide police mobilization and search for a presumed child molester.
It is my reading of the quote from the Langley police chief that the take-away lesson here is that a good Samaritan stopping to offer help to a minor should “first call the police to make the contact.” Isn’t this the same as making it against the law to offer such help on your own? Does it not make you a presumed kidnapper or child molester should you talk to a child or offer help?
For me, this story brought up other questions:
We seem to be moving toward a world where every interaction between people is based on a military or police model where you assume the worst-case scenario. Is this what we really want?
Does giving our kids “zero tolerance” rules about never talking to strangers keep them safer, or does it end up making them fearful and unable to exercise and trust their own judgment?
I don’t have answers to these questions. I just know the world has changed radically since my own childhood in 1950s Seattle. For much of the year, all the kids in a three-block area played outside together until dinner or dark called us home. We played in the streets and ran in and out of each other’s yards with no adult supervision. Of course, when I go back to my old neighborhood now, there are no children playing outside.
What about crazy people who might want to hurt a child? They certainly existed in the 1950s. Molestation and kidnapping were very rare (as they are now), but it did happen. All the kids I knew were pretty good at judging character — kids aren’t easily fooled when parents teach them to understand and trust their own judgment. We knew to stay away from weird adults just like we stayed away from bullies and other “crazy” kids.
This was an era before air bags or even seat belts in cars. There was no Consumer Protection Agency looking out for us. Yet it felt far safer than the world we live in now. I’m glad I got a chance to grow up in that world rather than this one.
For an interesting discussion on the corrosive effects of “too much law” see a TED Talk by lawyer Philip K. Howard. The title is “Four ways to fix a broken legal system.”
The overview idea from the TED Talk: Laws are meant to define the parameters of what you cannot do and what you must do. You must pay your taxes, and you can’t kill your boss. But the whole process of lawmaking is to define a “dry ground of freedom” within which you are able to make your own choices. That expression of free choice is critical for a healthy society — yet our “dry ground of freedom” has been shrinking for many decades.