“Leiby’s Law” Would Not Have Saved Leiby

Hi Readers — This post was sent to me by Mendel Klein, a Brooklyn father and a pediatric occupational therapist who writes about the benefits of letting children fail over at, yes,  Let Your Child Fail. — L

Leiby’s Law Wouldn’t have Prevented Leiby Kletzky’s Death

Here we go again. While Leiby Kletzky’s parents and sisters were still sitting the seven days of shiva,  mourning the brutal killing of their son, politicians in our community were already announcing a law in reaction to the terrible tragedy that struck them.

No need to guess what the law is called. It’s Leiby’s Law. The politicians are proposing that homeowners and store owners be able to voluntarily  submit themselves to criminal background checks and, if cleared, get a large, bright green sticker symbolizing that location as a safe-haven for lost children.

It has now become customary to propose and pass laws in reaction to tragedies that involve children. Some of these laws are helpful, but others, like this one, aren’t.

In reaction to Caylee Anthony’s death, or rather in reaction to her mother’s acquittal, there’s been a push for Caylee’s law, which would make it a crime not to report a missing child. As was pointed out here, Caylee’s law could make many of us criminals. And as Lenore wrote, next people are going to propose a law against mothers buying duct tape.

Here’s what’s wrong with Leiby’s Law. Levi Aron, young Leiby’s confessed killer, would have passed a criminal background check with flying colors. The New York police commissioner, Ray Kelly, made it clear that Aron had no criminal record. Even Aron’s ex-wife was saying how great he was with kids.

I don’t want to accuse politicians of opportunism, so I’ll stay away from that angle, although you may fill in the blanks. Still, this law (if you even want to call it a law) is ridiculous.

In the aftermath of tragedy people propose new regulations thinking that if only that law had been in effect at the time, the tragedy wouldn’t have happened. But in this case, while little Leiby Kletzky could have gone into a store or home sporting a green sticker on its window, that store or home could have been owned by a killer with no previous criminal record.

That is actually what happened.

Levi Aron was a person of Leiby’s community, my community. He looked like a community member to Leiby. Leiby likely trusted him. It’s exactly the same as if he had a green sticker. And that unfortunately didn’t prevent Leiby from being kidnapped and killed.

And yet, I can already imagine people starting to say, “Oh we only shop at stores that have green stickers, you know — the good stores. We are supporters of Leiby’s Law.” Or, “That store owner must be a child killer. Why else doesn’t he have a green sticker?”

Passing laws might boost politicians’ profiles. Petitioning for these laws might make us feel good. But reacting in these ways also boosts our fear and paranoia, while making our children no safer. It’s time to vote nay on these retroactive, post-mortem, feel-good laws, no matter whose name is attached. — M.K.

Such Sadness. Leiby Kletzky, R.I.P.

Hello, Readers. It is with an actually, physically aching heart that I report to you the death of an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy, Leiby Kletzky, who disappeared from a short, solo walk yesterday and was later found in a dumpster. Here is the story.

I bring it up because it seems to prove that the incident that kicked off Free-Range Kids — my letting my 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone — was foolish, or worse. At the time I said that I felt this was a reasonable and safe thing to do, because I believed in my son, my city and my own parenting. Despite the sorrow I feel even in my joints, I still do.

There are horrible people in the world. There always were, always will be. There were horrible people in the world even when we parents were growing up, and our own parents let us play outside and walk to school and visit our friends on our bikes. Our parents weren’t naive. They knew that we live in a fallen world. They also knew that they had a choice: Keep us locked inside for fear of a tragic, rare worst-case-scenario, or teach us the basics — like never go off with a stranger — and then let us out. They let us out.

Today we are faced with a worst-case scenario that could end up re-defining childhood as did the Etan Patz case 30 years ago.  (A case that had no parallel in my city until today. ) That a stranger abduction like Leiby’s is rarer than death-by-lightning just doesn’t seem to matter at a time like this. But it does.

People will blame the parents for letting their son walk even a few blocks on his own. I’ve already read some of those comments. They are like knives. Is it better to have a city — a country, a world — where no child is ever outside again without an adult? Where parents who let their kids to walk to the bus stop are treated like pariahs? Where the parks are empty, the playgrounds are empty, bikes sit in the garage and children hunker inside with their terrified moms and dads?

It is really hard to even suggest that life continue on as normal, but that is what I truly believe is the only response to this crime. Not that we take it in stride — I think it will always hurt. But that we take it in context. Saying that my city’s crime rate is down to the lowest it has been since 1961 seems ridiculous at a time like this. But it is down, and to act as if every block is full of darkness means — to borrow a phrase from terrorism — the darkness has won.

I’m shaken. I’m sad. I’m so sorry for what has happened. And I will send my sons out again. — Lenore