Michael Palmer was the Chief of Police in West Columbia, Texas. He was indicted, accused of binding, gagging and raping a seven year old boy. After indictment, Palmer fled. He was found deceased in his home before a trial could take place.
An obvious message exists in all “criminal cop” stories. Police departments hire bad people. The law enforcement hiring process may even select for bad people. Despite background checks, psychological screening, and polygraphs, people like Palmer – people who commit violent crimes against children – become police officers. Not only do these personalities make the cut, but they’re able to remain employed and achieve positions of power within their organizations. And the status of police officers means that they are rarely held to account for offenses they commit, legal or illegal.
I’ve talked about this in the past, so I wont go into it here. What caught my attention were the comments. The discussion wasn’t only about what Palmer did. It was also about the pervasive paranoia of pedophiles in the United States. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this line of discourse. It also isn’t a purely American phenomenon. The United Kingdom has an even greater level of paranoia. (A UK paediatrician was driven out of his home because his profession was confused with paedophile.) Pedophile paranoia is also a problem in Canada and Australia.
Pedophile paranoia largely does not exist in the non-English West. It isn’t common in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, most in the English-speaking West have neither the language skills nor foreign experience to know this. Linguistic and geographical isolation means that the English-speaking West lacks a global frame of reference. The English media loves sex crimes – perpetuating pedophile paranoia. It’s an essentially a Western, Anglo phenomenon.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the English and Americans express legitimate fears bred by sex crime paranoia. The legitimate fear being not of the pedophile, but of being accused. I remember one individual, a single male in the United States, who said he was afraid to walk through a park that had children in it. Another said he would not stand at a bus stop alone if a child was present. Yet another reported that he walked a longer route to avoid passing a school. One man told of how he was arrested for taking pictures in a public garden. He was a professional photographer.
If you live in one of the English-speaking countries the fear of being accused of a sex crime for being in the wrong place is, sadly, rational. The fear that a strange man walking down your street is a sex criminal, because he is a stranger, is not. Illegitimate fears have created legitimate fears. The public turns inward upon itself.
The pedophile is the modern witch. And the way a set of the public responds – not to pedophiles, but to the fear of pedophiles – is the witch hunt. Historical witch hunts drove the innocent to modify their behavior out of fear. Pedophile paranoia drives people who are not pedophiles to act differently because they are afraid of false accusations. This tells us more about the state, society and the law beyond the realm of pedophiles and sex crimes. There is an actual need to avoid looking suspicious: the mere perception of suspiciousness is sufficient to be arrested, to have your life ruined. The need to self-police, the pervasiveness of a public subset who reports “suspiciousness” at the drop of a hat, and the willingness of law enforcement to persecute based on said “suspiciousness” are all features of a police state.
The law alone does not define the police state. In the police state the law used as a tool of persecution by those tasked with enforcing it. Accordingly, in a police state people trust neither the law nor the law enforcers. Not trusting the law becomes a metric for recognizing the actual or nascent police state. Pedophile paranoia is an example of how people currently do not trust the law, nor do they trust the law enforcers. They know that the law will be used against them even if they are innocent. The law and law enforcement are viewed, correctly, as a threat. Even – especially – to those who have committed no crime.
We rarely have rational discussions about sex crimes. The inability to form a critical public discourse on the topic dictates in the long run what laws exist. It’s how people end up being charged with sex crimes for urinating in public. It’s why the State of Michigan permits a potential life sentence for indecent exposure. And I think we’ve all seen how young people are charged with child pornography for taking nude pictures of themselves.
It really doesn’t matter if we all know that pissing in public is not a sexual offense. The politician who runs against any sex crime legislation, no matter how absurd, is doomed. The well-intentioned reformer will be called “weak on crime.” A pedophile lover. The voting public, conventional and fearful, only needs to hear those sound bites. And this part of the population – and it’s a significant part – effectively holds us hostage. That’s not a bug of democracy; that’s a feature. At least, it is a feature of the representative so-called “democracy” that exists.
The system – representative democracy – must function this way by design. The public pisser who becomes a sex offender is a salient example. We’re easily able to see the error here, but the pattern repeats for all crime. A significant portion of the public lives in a state of fear. The media both responds to the demands of fear and perpetuates said fear. Elected representatives and legislators act in parallel, using fear to earn votes while drafting new laws that breed more fear. Police authority, power and abuse is magnified in proportion to calls for additional enforcement. New arrests, covered by the media, contribute to the perception of threat. It’s a feedback loop to totalitarianism. We’re held by the whims of the most fearful individuals in the population.
And that’s how you end up with innocent people who are afraid to sit in the park or wait at the bus stop.