This just in: middle-aged men have no business stopping to chat with young people. After all, the young and their elders have nothing in common, right? No reason to talk to someone who is so different from you. Certainly no reason to smile and speak to a stranger passing on the street. Even if you both have dogs.
Here's the story.
The 43-year-old man was the subject of a police "be on the lookout" memo because two children said he spoke to them while they were walking their dogs. Police said no criminal activity had been reported.
I don't blame the police for being cautious. Maybe the kids had been overly hyped to "stranger danger" by well-meaning parents and teachers. Maybe they truly sensed something wrong. In any case, I'm glad the police took them seriously.
If you read the article, you know that this is not the main thrust of the story. What happened next was that someone obtained the man's personal, identifying information, and e-mailed it all around the neighborhood, with the implication that he was a child molester.
The primary concern seems to be that the information was released illegally, which is certainly a problem. But I'm more concerned, overall, by the attitude revealed here that he had no business talking to the kids. Believe me, as a parent I understand the terrible fears, but in defending ourselves against one horror, we musn't lose sight of the cost. "If we can save just one child/woman/person from [insert particular horror here], it will be worth it," is often flung out like a banner, with little thought given to just what "it" is that we are sacrificing. In a world where lost children hide from adults instead of seeking help, and where kindergarten teachers are afraid to hug their students, we must at least consider the question of how many children we hurt in our efforts to help others.
Then there's the bedrock of our legal system, the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty. Frightening as the circumstances may be, this must apply to possible child molestors just as much as to possible murderers, shoplifters, and tax evaders, to Americans with possible connections to terrorists, and to Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, or it means nothing at all. Note that if this man turns out to be other than the completely innocent person he appears to be, it does not change my argument.