It was a warm spring day in 1994. I stood waiting on the corner across from my school at the spot my mother and I had long ago agreed upon would be our pickup location. I stood waiting as droves of children passed by until I was virtually alone. Ever been around a school 10 minutes after dismissal time? It’s a dead zone.
A rather lousy looking station wagon pulled up with two men who resembled dirty Uncle Bucks sitting inside. They pulled slightly past me, parked and waited. No kid got in their car. Neither one got out to look for anyone in particular, either. Ten minutes went by, then fifteen. This was the era before cell phones. Having no idea where my mother was I debated heading off in the direction for home, figuring she’d catch up. Just as one of the grubby men got out of the car, my mother whipped around the corner and shouted for me to get in. She’d gotten caught up at work and was running late.
“Did you see those men?” She asked, eyeing up the strangers who quickly receded into their vehicle and sped off when they saw her coming.
“Sort of,” I replied.
“Stay away from those creeps. You know what happened to Megan.”
By “Megan,” she meant Megan Kanka, a girl slightly my junior who had been lured from her front yard where she was playing by a neighbor, sexually assaulted, murdered and dumped into a local park mere weeks prior. She wasn’t a far-off victim on the nightly news. Megan Kanka lived a few neighborhoods over in our bucolic little suburban town.
On May 9, “Free Range Advocates” are encouraging parents to let their children walk home unattended from a local park. Intended to be a show of support for the Meitivs, who allowed their 10 and 6 year-olds to walk home unattended from a neighborhood park in Silver Spring, Maryland, the idea is a stupid one at best. The reality is that the neighbor who saw two unattended children did the right thing by calling the police. It’s all well and good to ask, “When did we stop being a community of responsible adults all looking after each other and each other’s kids?” But this isn’t the nifty fifties. This is a post-Megan Kanka, post-Hillary’s Village world where if you want a village to raise a child, you have to bear the bureaucratic consequences.
When I take walks around my neighborhood I greet the folks I see. I’ve learned to receive nothing but suspicious looks from the children playing outside. When they hit about 4, old enough to start learning “stranger danger” in school, they furrow their little brows, guard their siblings and eye the front door for mom, not daring to say a word. Hillary’s village is one of suspicion and bureaucracy.
Could that neighbor have simply spoken to the children and asked them where their parents were? Those kids have been educated to run the other way. If that neighbor did get a home phone number out of them and called their parents, would they have been accused of interfering in their free range style? Possibly. Suppose the Meitivs would’ve offered to pick up the kids. Had the neighbor invited them in to wait, they’d be putting themselves at legal risk of foul accusation. This is a post-Megan Kanka world.
Were the cops right to keep the Meitiv kids in a patrol car for hours? No. Was calling social services an extreme? Theoretically. In practicality, it’s the norm. When you introduce the government, you introduce paperwork. Like credit card transactions, there are systems to be followed and dues to be paid, whether you like it or not. That’s what socialism is all about: Treating everyone, the criminal and the criminally stupid, equally.
Want your kids to feel safe? Raise them to understand how the world really works before you load them with nostalgic visions of how you think it ought to be. It’s one thing to shake your head at what the world has become. It’s another to shake your head in regret after it’s too late.