A Walmart Abduction Attempt — And What the Video Means

Hi Readers! By now, you probably have seen the shocking video (below) of 7-year-old Brittney Baxter fighting off a would-be kidnapper in the toy aisle of the Bremen, Ga., Walmart.

What you may not realize is that this is a scene you will be seeing forever — replayed on the news and then re-imagined on “Law & Order” (though the show will change the name of the store, or maybe the guy will be kidnapping twins). Then you will see it playing again in your very own brain when you wonder to yourself, “Is it safe to let my child play in the toy aisle while I get some fruit?”

And the answer may well be: “No! Are you kidding? It only takes a second for someone to snatch a child! Let’s go to the videotape!” And your brain will be right — and also very wrong.

First, let’s give props where props are due. Brittney did everything right. Snatched by a stranger, she screamed and kicked, making the guy almost immediately drop her and run. This is a textbook case of a kid realizing that someone is out to hurt her and making a big scene. Most criminals hate scenes. So what I’ve taught my kids and others is to recognize abuse and resist it. This same knowledge also will help them in the 93 percent of abuse cases that involve not a stranger, but someone they know. So that’s all good.

What is not so good is the fact that Brittney’s attempted abduction is going to be the file many parents call up when they think about whether their kids are ever safe apart from them. As Brittney’s mom said in an interview, she doesn’t want to take her eyes off her daughter ever again.

That’s understandable — what a horrible thing the whole family just lived through! The other thing they just lived through, however, is proof that their little girl can handle herself in a terrible situation that is, thank goodness, rare.  How rare?

Rare enough to make news across this country and, thanks to that video, the world.

When we base our everyday decisions on exceedingly rare events, we are not making ourselves safer. In fact, as David Ropeik — Harvard instructor and author of “How Risky Is It, Really?” — points out, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many people canceled their plane reservations. They didn’t feel safe flying, even though the attacks were an extremely rare event.

So instead, they drove where they were going. And according to separate studies at Cornell University and the University of Michigan, highway fatalities jumped by roughly 1,000 for the last quarter of 2001. People felt safer taking their cars. But they weren’t, because airplanes are safe.

So are Walmarts. So is turning your head away when you are out with your 7-year-old.

It’s hard to believe after seeing this video. It’s even hard to write, because I’m so glad the girl is alive and well. But the truth is that there will be millions of parents at Walmart this weekend, along with millions of kids. They will shop, pay and leave (probably with some extra chips they promised themselves they wouldn’t buy).

When we worry about the safety of our loved ones, we won’t flash on videos of those mundane shopping excursions, because we never will see them. Never. What we see are the plane crashes. The towers falling. Brittney. And instead of saying a little prayer and going boldly forth, we press rewind and live in fear.

The news shows bring us this story ostensibly to celebrate the little girl’s bravery. In reality, it is one of the many assaults they make at our own. Fight back as if your own soul was being abducted. — L.

Kodak Moment or Kiddie Porn?

Hi Readers — Above is the question a Walmart employee in Arizona asked himself when some parents brought in a camera memory stick to be processed. Seven or eight of 144 photos showed the family’s three girls  frolicking in the bath. Kodak Moment? Or kiddie porn?

We know what the employee decided — and we  know what the D.A. decided — because the girls, ages 5, 4 and 1 at the time, were taken away from the parents. For how long?

A month.

The parents weren’t even allowed to SEE their girls for several days. (Here’s the story.)

How can it take a month to figure out that — guess what? — a  lot of parents take pictures of their cherubs in the tub? My husband and I sure did, even though when we look back, our kids don’t look that cherubic! Come to think of it, cherub pictures have been around ever since artists started painting them in European art history class. (At least, that’s where I saw them.) Everyone loves a naked baby, and most of us undertand the desire to delight in their dumpling-ness has nothing to do with pornography!

Now the Arizona parents have turned the tables and are suing Walmart and the State for making “slanderous claims” against them.

How about also suing for an utter lack of empathy? Or utter oblivion to how happy it makes a parent’s heart to see three kids in a bath? Rub-a-dub-dub! To assume the very worst of parents at the get-go — as opposed to assuming normalcy — is exactly what is driving us all crazy today. When our first thoughts are perverse, it’s our society that’s perverted.

Meantime, and as a total aside, kudos to those parents for at least taking their pictures in to be printed. Ours are still in the camera, and have been for about 4 years. — Lenore

A Prosecutor Debates the “Kids Waiting in the Car” Arrest

Hi Readers — A few posts down we were discussing a questionable arrest for “child endangerment.” In this case, the parents had left their  9- and 6-year-olds waiting in the car while they ran into Walmart for what turned out to be half an hour. Vis a vis child safety: The windows were cracked, the doors were locked, the 6-year-old was sleeping and the 9-year-old was reading. The older child was also given a cell phone.  Here is what one prosecutor wrote, which I found insightful:

I am a former prosecutor who worked for some time in abuse and neglect.  I have raised two kids–very much alive, healthy, and active–to their early 20’s.  If I had let every scenario that got played out in my courtroom define ‘reality’ for me I’d have never had children to begin with.  Come to think of it, if I had let every criminal law case I was ever involved with in any manner define reality for me, I’d barricade my home and never leave it.

The ‘reality’ is that we run risks every minute we are alive.  Which shall we, as individuals, change our behavior to avoid or minimize?  And what risk taking behavior should we, collectively, criminalize? 

The legislature of the State of NY has evidently seen fit to criminalize the ‘leaving’ of children ‘unattended’ in a parked automobile if the children are younger than a certain age.  But that is just statute.  An officer of the law has discretion to arrest or not; arrest is not mandatory and should not be.  An officer has the discretion, and is indeed obligated, to exercise his or her judgment in each and every situation the officer encounters than might involve law breaking as to whether or not an arrest should be made.

In this instance, unless the readers of this blog are not receiving some key piece of information, no harm or damage resulted from the actions of these parents.  The parent or parents were arrested not for something they did, but for the possibility that something harmful could occur.  And did not.

I don’t see what good can or will result from this arrest.  I do see that among the readers of this blog it is generating fear, anxiety, and resentment.  I expect that these parents will never leave a kid of theirs alone anywhere, under ANY circumstances, ever again.

If that is considered a ‘good’ and a legitimate exercise of legislative and police power, then there you have it.  To me, it sounds — in the very least — wacky and overblown, and perhaps grossly unfair, and even destructive. 

The desire and impulse to make the world safe for each and every child is a good one, but obviously impossible to effect.  Arrests such as these, in my opinion, deflect valuable (and expensive) police and governmental time and energies away from the myriad pressing dangers facing our children and young people…. Don’t even get me started on gang violence!

Lecture finis.

Thanks for it! I’d add that when we try to protect our kids from every possible “Worst Case” scenario, we forget that there is another worst  case we ignore: Raising children who believe the world is so dangerous that they’d better not try to do anything on their own, ever. — Lenore