March 8, 2004

Strakon Lights Up

The state that cried "Amber!"


Hoosiers patiently suffered through another of those peculiar Amber Alerts a few days ago. Too patiently, if you ask me.

Now, as you probably know, ninety-some percent of child abductions are actually carried out by the child's mother or father — parents of the type that social workers, flaunting their exquisite command of the English language, have taught us to call "non-custodial." (Oh, by the way, I'm referring to "biological" mothers or fathers — more poetry from those in the "helping professions" who are struggling to sweep the detritus of our shattered civilization into a manageable pile.) But in the past I've noticed that the local (i.e., Fort Wayne) media do their best to downplay what I would have thought was a central fact in their coverage of child-abduction alerts.

The three main TV channels always provide detailed physical descriptions of the abductor and of his vehicle (if known) and sometimes offer speculation — informed speculation, it seems — about the direction the abductor is traveling. Moreover, they always say that the child is "believed to be in extreme danger," which I take to be required boilerplate for Amber Alerts. At the tail end of the story, one of the news programs — sometimes two, but never all three — will throw in, as if by the way, that the "abductor" is actually one of the child's parents: "non-custodial," don't you know. In every one of the Amber Alerts in Indiana that I'm aware of, the "abduction" has turned out to be nothing more than an episode in a child-custody dispute — but you have to listen closely and connect those dots on your own. The media, in my area at least, don't go out of their way to help you.

This time I caught at least two stories about the Alert on each of the three channels, and none of them mentioned any possible family connection between abductor and abductee. They all reported that a 35-year-old black man driving such-and-such a car had grabbed a black boy from his home in Fortville, Indiana, a distant rural exurb of Indianapolis. They broadcast a fragmentary license-plate number indicating that the abductor's car was registered in Marion County, i.e., Indianapolis, which has a massive black population. Fortville and surrounding Hancock County, by way of contrast, are not known for their large cohort of African Americans. The TV stations identified the child's mother as the complainant, but her husband didn't come into the story, and neither did the child's father.

The AP's follow-up story (at least as boiled down by the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette) reporting the child's safe return to his mother still represented the "35-year-old man" as a random, unknown invader.

While recognizing that this "abduction" just might have been the real thing, finally, I still had my suspicions. For one thing, kids usually don't spend a night in the company of criminal sexual psychopaths a la "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and come back safe and sound, as this one had. For another, videotape of the joyous reunion of mother and son revealed the mother to be an extremely white woman and her son to be a light-skinned black. An extremely white grandmother was also shown, but no husband and father of any hue seemed to be around to share in the joy.

The Indianapolis Star was more forthcoming than the Journal-Gazette — maybe because the story was closer to home, and a little more detail was expected — but in any case it confirmed my standing suspicions in its lead: "Hancock County investigators are trying to sort out the circumstances that led a non-custodial father to take his child, triggering a statewide Amber Alert that ended on the city's Eastside Saturday morning...." ("IPD finds boy sought in Amber Alert," March 7, 2004)

According to the Star, a "Good Samaritan" family named Johnson took in the father and his son overnight, and Mr. Johnson told the Star reporter: "That man wasn't dangerous a bit. The man loved his son. You could see that." In fact, the Star reports that Johnson told them that the child's father "called the Amber Alert number and then Hancock County detectives to tell them where he was"!

Before anyone gives the Indianapolis Star some award named after Zenger or Mencken for refusing to cooperate with the party line, I should note that even that paper, in the initial story posted to its Website, before the "abduction" was resolved, chose not to share with its readers the single most important fact about the "abductor" — a fact that both the cops and the cop reporters obviously had to know from square one.

I'm pretty sure that the media's consistent withholding or burying of that fact, while such "abductions" are still in play, reflects not incompetence but policy.


I've expressed the opinion previously that the System does good-hearted, whitebread Hoosiers a disservice when it periodically urges them to intervene in the complicated disputes of a troubled family. (For as long as I've been following these Alerts in Indiana, it's always been a colored or mixed-race family.) It's especially offensive that the System usually urges that intervention without making it plain to ordinary bystanders what they'd be getting into. Instead the Authorities and their media servants consistently abuse people's natural concern for the safety of children.

Some of the impulsive "Amber Alert" daddies and mommies emerge in the media as unsavory characters — the cops are alleging that the latest perpetrator has used drugs they don't approve of — and I can imagine the distress of the "custodial" parent when an irregular visitation occurs. But I wish officialdom would just let the parties' lawyers continue hashing the whole thing out and lay off trying to drag the rest of us into it.

By crying wolf so regularly the System does an even worse disservice to kids abducted by perverts, maniacs, and killers. True, it takes the Viewing Public a while — a longer while than ever before, nowadays — to tumble to the obvious. But tumble they finally may. And then we'd all better hope that another twistee such as that monster in Sarasota, Florida, doesn't come sliming through our little bailiwick. The Amber Alert didn't save his 11-year-old victim, but one thing's for sure: no one's going to be saved if folks just snort with disdain and surf off to a cable channel whenever the rocket goes up.

Government is no better at insuring the public safety than it is at performing any of the other functions it has seized from society. And as for the complaisant cop-buffs of the established media ...! Well, that whole subject would take another thousand words. In the meantime, remember to wear your decoder ring whenever you watch the TV news.

March 8, 2004

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