Friday, August 28, 2009

When to Call the Cops and When Not to

No doubt readers have heard the mind-boggling, horrible story of the little girl who was kidnapped when she was 11, kept in a back-yard prison for 17 year, and bore her kidnapper two children, one when she was 14. Really the story is so strange, it's hard to wrap ones head around it. And it's so terrifying, I don't even really want to think about it. But this jumped out.
Neighbours and even some of his own family considered Garrido strange as he told them about his messages from God and kept the females at his house from contact with outsiders.

Erika Pratt, 25, who stayed next door two years ago, said she was "freaked out" by Garrido's behaviour, and when she popped her head over the fence she saw his secret compound. There were tents, sheds and pitbull terriers, she said, and water hoses leading from her house next door.

"He had little girls and women living in that backyard, and they all looked kind of the same," Pratt told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They never talked, and they kept to themselves."

Pratt said that people came and went from the property, but the core group consisted of two girls about four years old, one girl about 11, another girl about 15 and a young woman about 25. They were all blonde, she said.

Pratt said she had called Contra Costa County sheriff's deputies to investigate, but that officers "told me they couldn't go inside because they didn't have a warrant". (Mark Tran and David Batty, The Guardian, August 28, 2009).
So he had the girls living in a makeshift prison camp in his backyard. He wasn't off in the mountains or on some remote farm. He had neighbors, and Prattt, at least, knew there was something weird and maybe wrong. But the other neighbors seemed cool with the guy. For 18 years.

My gut reaction is that these neighbors were totally irresponsible. An unimaginably horrible crime was taking place right over their fences and they were willfully blind to it.

OK, let's go back one week.
[Bob Dylan] was stopped in July by police in Long Branch, New Jersey, who were responding to a call about a suspicious person roaming the neighborhood, police said.

According to Long Branch Police Department Sgt. Michael Ahart, Dylan had been peering into a window of a house that was for sale, which prompted a neighbor to call the police on July 23.
One of two responding officers, Officer Kristie Buble, 24, approached Dylan and asked him for his name.

"She recognized the name, she just really didn't believe it was Bob Dylan," Ahart told CNN. "He was soaking wet because it was raining and he was wearing a hood."

So Buble asked the musician for identification, but he had none.

Buble and her partner, Officer Derrick Meyers, 24, then asked Dylan, 68, to accompany them to where his tour buses were parked. Once they arrived, Dylan showed them identification. (Deborah Brunswick, CNN, August 14, 2009)
Now this story was played for laughs. Ha ha, young whippersnappers don't recognize aged rock legend! But when I read it, I was outraged. Why did Dylan have to show ID? When did it become a crime to walk down the street. Or look in the window of a house that was for sale? Some scaredy-cat neighbor calls the cops because they see someone they don't know walking along a public street. How many times do non-famous people get hassled by the police for the same "crime"?

But now that I look at the two stories together. At some point, you want the neighborhood busy-bodies to get involved. If more people had fingered Garrido, maybe that tragedy could have ended sooner. But at the same time, you don't want to have a police state with cops coming up as you are out for a stroll and asking for your papers, as if you were in the old Soviet Union. So the question is how to balance this, and if balance is possible.

But then I asked myself, what is different about these two cases (aside from the obvious)? Garrido was a neighbor--presumably a home-owner. The neighbors might not have known him that well, but they knew he was from their neighborhood, that he had a job and a house. Dylan was apparently seen as a stranger, someone not from the neighborhood, a possibly dangerous outsider.

So I think there might have been some primitive tribal feelings at work here. Garrido was an insider--an admittedly eccentric one, but a familiar face nonetheless. Thus we don't call the cops. We tolerate his eccentricities. Dylan was an outsider. Since neither the person who called the cops nor the cops themselves recognized him, the reaction is to protect the home turf from the outsider.

So because of the relative social positions of Garrido and Dylan within the two neighborhoods, the reactions were totally different--a tragic under-reaction for Garrido, and humorous (but unacceptable) over-reaction in the case of Dylan.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Bob Fingerman said...

His neighbors are like the Germans and Poles during WWII who claimed not to have a clue what was happening at the neighboring death camps. Bullshit.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree - however.

Don't you think it kind of points up the randomness of events and human behavior?

Either of these unrelated events could have taken a totally different turn if the cops that showed up when called were in a different mindset. Like if the donut shop was closed when they went on break, or it was at the start of their shift instead of the end, or vice versa.

Same thing with the reporting persons, neighbors of the kidnapper and the caller who reported the REAL king as a suspicious person.

You do it, I do it, everybody does it. Mostly we react one certain way to a given stimulus, but once in a while… another reaction pops up. Like you hate Jagermeister, but sometimes, once in a while, you take a shot anyhow. There may be a preponderance of a given reaction to similar stimuli, but there are always going to be outliers. Sometimes we react different ways to similar situations for no logical reason at all.

Allen Funt – proven correct once again.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

Yeah, I wasn't trying to demonstrate a sociological truth (that we treat outsiders and insiders very differently) on the basis of two examples, one extreme and one rather common (people getting stopped in neighborhoods for being strangers). It's just that the reactions were so divergent that they stuck in my brain.

My strongest "evidence" (if you can really call it evidence) for the insider part of my theory is how freaking long Garrindo was able to hold his victim and their children (!) captive. There must have been some POWERFUL "not noticing" going on among his neighbors.

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, no, man. I wasn't saying you were wrong, so much. Just carrying the discussion along. And I forgot to sign it.

jd

6:30 PM  
Blogger Robert Boyd said...

Oh, I understand. I wasn't disagreeing with you at all, in fact. I was "arguing" to carry the discussion along as well. I don't think my "insider/outsider" theory really quite explains it, except maybe as a starting point.

8:03 PM  

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