Keeping the Peace

“To know that you can’t walk down the street at night in your own neighborhood,” the councilman said. “That’s a terrible shame. That’s a terrible feeling. No one should be subjected to that.

“This is Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Henderson said. “We should have the ability to stand out on your porch anytime, day or night, that you want to.”

No doubt, Jack Henderson, the Commissioner for the Tulsa District, in which five people were shot by a guy in a pickup truck, is sincere in his statements. People should be able to walk (up or down) the street, at any time, without being afraid of being attacked or harassed. But note how he equates “to know” with “feeling.” Though he hasn’t fully realized that people walking anywhere are widely seen as a cause for concern, that he’s got a clue is indicated by the qualifier, “in your own neighborhood.” Also by his observation that “this is Tulsa”–i.e. obviously not New York City where over 400,000 people a year are routinely/randomly accosted and assaulted while walking, by the NYPD, regardless of whether they’re using the sidewalk or the street. Not to mention that hundreds of encounters with Occupy Wall Street walkers have been broadcast around the world to let us know that people walking anywhere aren’t welcome, unless they go where they’re told.

This is not new. I’ve known that walkers are suspected of mischief for at least 25 years, ever since cops on patrol warned me that a neighborhood was not safe to walk in on a Sunday morning and sheriff’s deputies ordered an old man walking along a creek (in his own neighborhood) to explain himself. “No one should be subjected to that,” but they are and, what’s more, with a few exceptions, people being subjected to restraints is increasingly perceived as good. “Behave yourself” is an attitude that’s widely shared.
Note how the Commissioner almost immediately retracts his endorsement of the human right to walk about. From knowing that “you can’t walk” being a shame, he retreats to “we should have the ability to stand … on your porch.” Indeed, from including himself with those whose rights are being denied, his brain almost immediately corrects to the second person that’s taking a risk, employing the subjunctive to indicate what should be, but obviously isn’t.

Perhaps the Commissioner suddenly (subconsciously?) remembered that another shooter has recently been in the news for assaulting and killing an innocent walker and got caught, probably because he got out of his truck. So, is it too much of a stretch to think that the fellow in Tulsa is a copy cat killer who saw Zimmerman’s “mistake” and made an “improvement”?

There are copy cats amongst us and what they most often learn from other’s mistakes is not to be watched perpetrating their mayhem (like Sergeant Pepper Spray in Manhattan and at UC Davis) and to make a quick getaway, lest the element of surprise be lost.

Our agents of law enforcement like to think that catching and punishing miscreants will deter copy cats. That’s obviously not how it works. Copy cats aren’t deterred by another’s mistakes; they’re sure they can do it better. If there’s one thing creatures of habit rely on, it’s that practice makes perfect. They pick victims at random because, without a connection, a perpetrator is hard to detect and, besides, the crime is not about the victim. Random killers are self-centered. They follow their impulses. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

“No one should be subjected” springs from the same mentality as “nobody could have expected.” Some people don’t think ahead. Because they don’t think. They’re responsible, but only in the sense of having the ability to respond to prompts, on impulse. Fear and imitation spring from the same source — instinct.

Fraidy cats and copy cats. Strictly speaking, they know not what they do. So, they ought to be forgiven.

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Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."