On Fear

I want to say something about fear.

On Monday, the Supreme Court released a decision – about strip searching.   In this 5-4 decision – majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy – the Court affirmed that jail strip searches do not require reasonable suspicion, at least for individuals who are being admitted into general population.  (Read all about the case at www.scotusblog.com.) These “strip searches” are actually equivalent to body cavity searches – displaying genitals, “squat and spread,”  without reasonable suspicion or a probable cause hearing.  The only thing required is the word of an arresting officer – for any offense.  (Jay walking, failing to return library books, or failing to use a turn signal could now legally result in a strip/body cavity search.)  The reasoning behind this decision is that any person who is arrested could potentially be smuggling drugs or weapons into the jail.  Therefore, according to Justice Kennedy, it is appropriate for every person brought into jail, even for a non-criminal offense, to be treated as if they are smuggling drugs or weapons into jail.  These, by the way, are people who are legally being presumed innocent, and some of them (as in the case of the defendant in this Supreme Court case) actually are innocent.

Yesterday, I was driving to the doctor, because Beckett had a fever of unknown origin that had reached a nice 103.6 degrees the night before.  It turned out to be nothing, but as I was driving there, I turned on some conservative talk radio.  (I occasionally turn on the conservative radio to listen to what the other side is saying.)  Anyway, the host was discussing the technology that is now available to police that allows them to track cell phones without warrant.  That means, if you carry a cell phone with you, the police can legally track your physical location for an extended period of time, without demonstrating probable cause or obtaining a warrant.  A woman phoned in to sing the praises of this technology, stating that “with so many bad people out there today, isn’t it a wonderful thing that the police can round up all of the information available, and then sort out the bad guys?”  Again, the desire is to treat everyone (at least everyone who owns a cell phone) as if they are criminal.

I know it is old-hat by now to talk about the TSA and the increasingly invasive searches that go on just to board an overly-crowded airplane these days, but I want to tell just a quick story about traveling with my daughter alone for the first time.  Maggie was probably about 6 months old.  I had her in the Ergo carrier, and I struggled to get through the line.  When I went through security, I forgot to take a water bottle out of my bag.  The search that ensued was, extreme I think, and a little embarrassing.  Maggie and I were both patted down and swabbed for explosives.  My bags were dumped out and searched, complete with maxi pads falling on the floor.  When the search was finished, I had to take my things to the side and try to repack my bag before I got o the plane.  Now, this was nearly two years ago, and I know that the TSA workers were merely doing their job.  But their job is to treat every person who wants to get on a plane as if they are intending to blow up the plane, when of course, most of us are merely trying to get where we’re going.

I am a big fan of Free Range Kids, the blog and the book written by Lenore Skenazy.  Her claim is that, although the rates of violent crime are lower now than they have been in half a century, parents (and adults in general) are convinced that it is more dangerous for kids today.  This is partly due to the 24-hour news cycle that publicizes every abduction case and makes it seem as if pedophiles and murderers lurk around every corner.  This is also because we have increasingly moved toward a what-if mentality.  “Anything could happen,” people are known to say.  Kids are not allowed to play unsupervised until they’re 14 years old.  We walk through public places and feel scared if a stranger (especially a man) smiles at our kids.  All adults, and indeed all people, are treated first with suspicion.

I started this post out with the statement that I wanted to say something about fear.  And this is what I want to say.  We live in fear of our neighbors.  Increasingly, we are living with a deep suspicion of those around us.  And here is the biggest problem with that, as far as I’m concerned: the African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child.”  The fear and suspicion is growing and causing us to build up walls between us and the people in our lives who would potentially make our lives better and easier.  We are careening toward lives where all we can do is huddle in our houses, praying that the pedophiles and murderers and terrorists don’t get us or our kids.  That used to be the way crazy people lived.  Now it’s looking more and more like the “reasonable” and “safe” choice.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I can tell you this: I don’t want my kids to grow up seeing me suspicious of every human being I encounter.  I want my kids to know that they are safe with other people.  I want them to learn to take acceptable risk, and I want them to know that some risks are always worth taking.  I want to live in a world that is just, not just safe, and I want my kids to live in that world too.  So I am going to reject the fear as best I can, and let my kids grow up in the village.

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