There’s Hope for Mayberry Yet!

Hi Folks! Talk about a beacon of hope.  A Hollywood ending! Success! Get this:

As you may recall, a few years back, a mom from small-town Mississippi wrote to this blog in a quandry. After teaching her 10-year-old son the route to soccer, she’d let him walk there — less than a mile — by himself. On that first time out, a cop picked him up, scolded it wasn’t safe, and tracked down the mom. He told her  he’d received “hundreds” of calls to 911 about the boy and that he could book her for “child endangerment.”

That mom was Lori LeVar Pierce, and that day marked a turning point. Instead of cowering in fear, she called the chief of police and asked if the town was really so dangerous a kid couldn’t walk to soccer. The chief said it was very safe and apologized for the cop’s actions. But mere facts did not calm the local paper. As it wrote in an editorial:

Once upon a time, decades ago, mothers were able to let their elementary-aged children roam free and alone.

While many, including us, look upon this halcyon time with fondness and a longing for its return, the fact remains that things are different now.  The days of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and “Leave it to Beaver” are gone.

Yeah, in large part because fearmongering media bashed them over the head.

But some people have decided not to listen to doomsday blathering anymore. Lori, for instance, became twice as determined to have her kids play outside after the  cop incident, and thus saw for herself  what her town really lacked. Sidewalks! She became an activist and  now there are sidewalks all around town, thanks to her.

But that’s not all. As of last week, even the local PAPER is changing! Check out this Jan. 25 editorial:

…we, as a community, need to use more discretion when calling 911. It seems we’ve all gotten paranoid.

If there are teenagers you don’t know walking down the street, they might just be kids taking a stroll. And odds are, if you spend much time outside or looking out of the window, you’re going to see an unfamiliar car.

Pay attention. Look out for yourself and your neighbors. But don’t always rush to call the law.

We should feel safe in our own neighborhoods, and the police play a major role in that. But they shouldn’t have to console us every time we have unsubstantiated fears. It wastes their time and our money.

Don’t give in to unsubstantiated fears? Expect to see children strolling down the street? Get to know your neighbors? Darned if Columbus, Mississippi isn’t going…Free-Range!

If a town that told its citizens “This isn’t Mayberry” back in 2009 is telling them that kids can and should be walking down the street in 2012, I gotta say: Columbus, you rock! It takes courage to reject fear.  So hi from your new friend in New York City, and hi also to Lori, who got the ball rolling…and the kids outside. — Lenore

Let's hear it for a little street life!

40 Responses

  1. Yay! So nice to see an improvement, for a change.

  2. If more and more people speak out against media fear mongering, we might just see a turnaround in this country.

  3. Kudos to Columbus, MS. Let’s hope that this is contagious.

  4. If this was a small town, and less than a mile walk, and the cop had received “hundreds” of calls, EVERYONE along the child’s route must have called. Twice.
    That’s an argument that it’s a pretty safe town, what with so many people able to not do much besides watch out their front windows.

    Regardless, it’s a good thing that someone on the editorial board of the newspaper has developed some (un)common sense.

  5. Way to take back your neighborhood with sidewalks!

    We were attracted to our current development for the paths and sidewalks. When you see people walking around, pushing strollers, and kids riding bikes, this is a GOOD thing for your neighborhood. Now if I could only get them to shovel their sidewalks regularly, I’d be happier….

  6. Betcha a dollar the cop exaggerated or outright lied, Heather.

  7. Yes, success story. You have got to love it.

    I myself get tired of “this isn’t Mayberry.” My reply typically: “it isn’t CSI either.” People are just as bad about falling for TV in terms of letting CSI letting them think that the world is nuts & you have to be in a permanent state of paranoia, that is every bit as much of a misapplication of TV viewing as some suggest watching the 50s-60s sitcoms does to fuel irrational nostalgia.

    (Did my English & grammar structure hold up properly with that last statement?)

    All of this paranoia fueled by watching these “oh my God!” TV shows like CSI, we should start calling it the “CSI effect,” and how about this:

    CSI stands for (C)hildren (S)taying (I)indoors.

    LRH

  8. Lollipoplover, that was a big selling point for us too. Though with 110 houses on small lots there aren’t any paths per se, but people out on sidewalks, walking dogs, pushing strollers and riding bikes was one of the things that convinced us this was the neighborhood for us. Six years later we couldn’t be happier with our choice.

  9. Crud, hit post too soon. Wanted to add that out of 11 neighborhoods we looked at only two had sidewalks and this was the only one a lot of kids and dogs. How sad is that, 2 of 11 have sidewalks?

  10. I can’t even imagine how I would have responded to that police officer. Or even more, I can’t fathom how my parents would have reacted if the cops had picked me up for walking somewhere! They would have blown a gasket.
    When I was in kindergarten, my grade 2 brother and I walked to and from school! That’s right, a seven year-old was responsible of a five year-old! We had to walk just over a mile on a sidewalk next to a busy road and had to cross *gasp* two streets with crosswalks.
    And sometimes, not very often, we’d get home and our parents weren’t home yet! So we would have to be intelligent enough to look for the hidden house key, or if it wasn’t left out, we would go to our neighbours house and wait there until our parents drove by.
    I’m sure this would seem terrifying and cruel to many parents now. But it was no big deal!!! And this wasn’t back in the 50’s when “nothing ever happened”… I’m talking about the early 90’s!!! We were safe and better for it because we learned to use our brains and be independent!!

  11. Heather P makes an excellent point that if all those people called 911, then clearly this is a town watching out for its kids. That’s what makes it safe.

    The only question I have is this: If they had instead seen the child being approached by a dangerous-looking stranger, would they have run outside to intervene, or would they have cowered inside and just called 911?

    What these people don’t realize is that it is the alertness and caring of the community members that makes a place safe, not so much the police. And if *more* children were allowed to walk to soccer, that would make it safer for everyone as well.

  12. Hooray for Lori LeVar Pierce and Columbus, Mississippi. We need this kind of wake-up call and action in small and large towns across America. I agree wholeheartedly with many of the commenters here – It’s by taking back the streets for actual walking, biking and playing that we make them safer for everyone, while strengthening community ties and teaching our kids some of the self-reliance they’ll need later in life. Thanks, Lenore. It’s great to hear good news on the Free-Range front.

  13. Walking from one place to another is one thing. However, in my community, there is a big problem with children knocking on stranger’s doors soliciting donations for their schools. In every case, the child is unaccompanied by a parent or sibling. (And, when I say “child”–I mean as young as five or six.)

  14. Yay! Away with fear already. Let kids out to play! I agree with Sue,” it is the alertness and caring of the community members that makes a place safe”

  15. Wow, Aztec, it’s great that your town is so remarkably safe* that kids and their parents feel fine doing that.

    Although random solicitation (begging!) IS annoying….

    *I’m assuming that there aren’t child abductions by strangers every week, of course, because if so you would’ve said that.

  16. Uly–Sorry I left off the /sarc tag. I won’t take your bet, either. 😉

  17. Awesome! One person at a time, one city at a time, and hopefully one day the nick name for Earth will be “Mayberry”.

  18. Aztecqueen, how cool that parents feel comfortable doing this! I used to sell Campfire candy door to door. Now, you get accosted at the supermarket where kids are with parents who carefully look on and make sure that the change is correct and that the kids are not talking to the “wrong type” of person.

    Right now though, my giant dog and giant geese tend to keep the solicitors to a minimum.

  19. Aztecqueen, I don’t mind the kids knocking on the door. They tend to be respectful, I know them from the neighborhood and the donations go to the school my kids will be attending in a couple years. I do mind the paid salespeople who don’t understand the “no soliciting” sign on the door and act as if I owe them.

  20. I have always prefered the response to headline hysteria to be: “If it was as common as you seem to think it is than there wouldn’t be so many headlines about it.”

  21. It was more the safety issue than the nuisance issue. For context–I live a few blocks away from where Leiby Kletzky was abducted last summer. (yes, I know it was a freak occurrence.)

  22. Actually, with the rate of violence going the way it’s going, there’s a good chance it’s BETTER than Mayberry. Tell them that!

  23. I have laugh about the kids knocking door to door. We have so many Girl Scouts in our neighborhood and it seems like the wagons are making the rounds on a daily basis. They all must conspire and know we are suckers for at least two boxes. Today my son got home from school and was horrified that we had no Thin Mints left. I told him to go find a Girl Scout and replenish the supply. He’s finishing up his homework now and will make the bike trip two blocks over with his own $7 to visit the adorable Katherine, and get his stash of Thin Mints and a box of Samoas for his darling mother.

  24. “It was more the safety issue than the nuisance issue. For context–I live a few blocks away from where Leiby Kletzky was abducted last summer. (yes, I know it was a freak occurence.)”

    For context- I live a mile away from a fatal car accident scene but I still drive through this intersection.

  25. AztecQueen, if you know it’s a freak occurrence I am confused as to the point you are making.

  26. For context, Aztec, I live in the same city you do, in a far “less safe” neighborhood (though the people who live IN this neighborhood don’t think so! We have our own idea of the “unsafe neighborhood”… another place where murders happen far less frequently than the hype would suggest) than you do, and I sometimes don’t even lock my door.

  27. About the kids with candy/cookies, the dog and geese keep adults away. They don’t keep the neighborhood kids away. THEY all know they are harmless. It is the adults that are scared of the geese and dog.

  28. Aztec, is the kidnapping, rape and murder of children going door-to-door common in your neighborhood? If so, then I see your point and parents should find better ways to raise money … and get the heck out of that neighborhood ASAP. If, as I suspect, NO child has ever been kidnapped, raped and murdered while going door-to-door begging for money for school in your neighborhood, I completely fail to see the safety issue.

    It is interesting that you point to the murder of Leiby as a reason why kids should not go door-to-door alone. As a recall, Leiby was not going door-to-door begging for money. He was simply walking from point A to point B, something you concede is fine in your first post. So Leiby’s death doing one thing (deemed safe by you despite this horrible freak occurrence) is a reason not to do another completely different thing?

  29. Great news. That’s the kind of thing determined people can do.

  30. It is so rare and so wonderful to hear about anything improving in this space. Congratulations to Lori–and to Lenore, for all she does behind (and in front) of the scenes to make these things happen.

  31. Good for you Lori! You are helping set the children free!

  32. Society is way too paranoid. Just yesterday I was at a big box toy store with my boys. My 5yr old wanted to buy a toy from the machines by the door & since I didn’t have 50 cents I left my 5yr old & the stroller with the baby to run just inside & get change. I can back a couple of minutes later to find a customer had ran & gotten an employee. Give me a break. It wasn’t busy no one was around & I was withing shouting distance. I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal

  33. Thumbs up and congratulations. Thanks for a triumphant story and legitimate good news.

  34. This is fabulous! Congratulations Lori AND Lenore!! It’s like the opposite of the broken window theory–add a sidewalk and the social fabric is mended… I wonder why some communities are so paranoid and others aren’t. My little town in New Jersey is definitely free-range. Not all kids–not like when I grew up here–but some kids walk to elementary school and starting around 6th grade many more stroll around town after school. What makes our town different, do you think? (We do have lots and lots of sidewalks. 🙂 )

  35. Before moving to my current home in Germany 6 years ago, I lived in a small town (about 5,000 people) in a different part of Germany. It was very free-range. Kids of all ages played outside in the smaller streets without adult supervision. The older kids watched out for the younger ones when a car drove by. Kids were always out playing in the neighborhood, either in the streets or at a local playground.

    When my son was about 4 or 5, my family (husband, son, me) took a trip to California to visit family. In all of the neighborhoods where we stayed, nobody was on the streets. My son finally commented, “This must must be a really lonely place. Nobody is here.” He was so used to seeing the German streets in his neighborhood alive with kids playing and adults walking, cycling, or running. The empty streets in nice neighborhoods in California really threw him off. During another CA trip, when my son was 9, he commented that he wouldn’t want to live there because you have to drive everywhere. He likes being able to walk or ride his bike over here and doesn’t really know anything different.

    Kudos to Lori for making her town less of a “lonely place.” She is a beacon of hope for the free-range movement. And thank you to Lenore for bringing us the good news.

  36. “since I didn’t have 50 cents I left my 5yr old & the stroller with the baby to run just inside & get change. I can back a couple of minutes later to find a customer had ran & gotten an employee.”

    No common sense at all. Common sense would dictate that if the customer was concerned about the children being alone even for a minute, she could have stood there for five minutes and kept an eye on the kids. Then if no one showed up, there might be cause for concern and involving someone else.

    Of course, that assumes that the person had enough common sense to think, “The parent probably just ran to get something and will be right back. I’ll stay by just to make sure everything’s ok.” But too many people immediately jump to “abandoned kids, oh no, crisis!” — as though Toys R Us is a prime dumping ground for unwanted children. Or, “kids left alone in a store, criminally bad parenting, something must be done!”

  37. Ha, the above was me, under a different name.

  38. Y’know, you might think people would notice that there is something the hell wrong with society when the job of a police officer is considered to involve curtailing the fairly basic rights and freedoms of potential victims as opposed to, you know, preventing criminals from undertaking criminal action. Is abduction, murder and muggings etc. towards children SO common and SO out of control that the best course of police action is to control the potential victims rather than the crime?

    As an adult woman, I’ve never actually been picked up or talked to by a police officer, but I’m constantly being told by my parents’ generation that it’s totally not safe for me to walk around alone outside at night. It’s the same sort of thinking that applies: if I’m alone outside at night, or even during the day and I get lost or in a secluded area, I am totally going to get abducted/raped/murdered/mugged. My thinking is that no, I’m not. If this were true, then why, as a society, are we so meekly accepting of the fact that “it’s not safe alone outside” for women and children? If random violent crime against women and children was so rampant and out of control, where are the protests??? Where are the marches and the rallies??? Where are the awareness campaigns, the police fundraisers, the political issues on the news calling for better law enforcement???

    They don’t exist because crime is not, in fact, out of control in most areas.

  39. […] There’s Hope for Mayberry Yet! from Lenore at Free-Range Kids • because it’s heartening to see people getting it… […]

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