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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, June 09, 2005

I am obliged to attend a neighborhood meeting this evening. Stories about a man hanging around the local playground have been circulating. Apparently he has said that he is a child molester to someone. The son of a friend reported that late last Friday night around 11 o'clock he and some friends were walking home when a man started following them. They turned to see if he were gone, and the guy ran up behind them and grabbed one by the hand and pulled. The kids grabbed pulled her away and ran and the man called out "Don't go I want to have fun". They ran home and locked the doors. It would appear that there is a real nut job on the loose around our quiet, liberal minded city block-- a block that happens to be full of small children, that my daughters frequently babysit. I am not the sort of guy who jumps at shadows, and I am inclined to take a lot of these sorts of stories with a supplemental dose of skepticism, but this sounds real, and it is scary to think that this sort of scary craziness can have come onto Lancaster Avenue.

Even so, I'm not sure what the point of a neighborhood meeting might be. Because my twisted sense of humor takes me to places it shouldn't, I have the thought that we should show up carrying tiki touches and weedwackers, the 21st Century urban hipster equivalent of firebrands and pitchforks. Apart from being vigilant-- something that comes naturally in my neighborhood, which has as many busybodys as cranks, it is hard to know what else we might accomplish at a meeting. This is something for the cops to deal with, and if I know my neighbors, the cops have been getting an earful. This is the sort of event that A-- a former prosecutor after all-- would be much better at than I am likely to be. I like those neighbors best who I never see, next best those who wave and move along. Third place goes to the neighborhood cranks-- there are plenty of us, and I suppose we are the ones who will mostly be in attendance.

I am presently preparing for a trial in which we represent a kid who was bullied and harassed at school until the day that he was chased out into the street and hit by a car. The case makes me furious-- the kid's mom had gone to the teacher twice before the accident to complain, but the school never did anything about the bullying, and the kid-- who really seems like a good kid, lived every day in third grade not only in fear, but in the knowledge that his teacher and his parents were, apparently, powerless to prevent the things that were happening to him. I suppose at some point the realization that authority can't prevent evil dawns on most of us, but third grade is too soon to lose faith in the idea of an orderly universe (and too soon for adults in authority to concede the point as well). Because I believe that order should be imposed on the universe I spent several happy hours taking the school authorities apart in depositions-- they came out of the conference room with a little taste of what it was probably like for our client at the end of the school day, afraid and miserable, and for that I'm glad. I felt like I got some of the kid's own back, and like I'd used my powers for good instead of evil. Unfortunately my powers of cross-examination are not likely to be much good up against the pathetic creep that is apparently trolling my block, and going to a meeting won't do much to alleviate the frustration that comes from knowing that there isn't much we can do in this situation.

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