It is hard to say whether the recent frenzy around the following story is due to the serious nature of the crime or to the desire of local social media counts to run with a story which is good for an inordinate amount of clicks.
There is something that happens to people when they show up at the Howard County Police Department Facebook page to comment on the police report. Or perhaps the police report tends to draw a certain kind of person: the kind that truly enjoy “rubbernecking” at a crime scene and passing judgment.
I almost titled this piece, “The Ten People You Meet While Reading the HCPD Crime Report.”
The first group are known as the “God Bless Our Brave Police Officers” folks. That’s their framework for looking at these sorts of things, and they are committed to it. I imagine the police department finds this heartening.
The next folks are the “Oh, this is just awful!” contingent. They’re not really judging anyone in particular. They’re expressing a heartfelt sentiment just as they might if they came across something terrible on the street.
Right behind those are the “lock them up and throw away the key” people. The percentage of those in relationship to the whole varies according to the nature of the crime.
Then there are the “we never had crime when I first moved here” people. They also show up as “Columbia/HoCo is really going downhill.” This particular story drew a “Howard County had no crime until Columbia was created” comment.
I mustn’t forget the people who are anxious to show that they know how to look up the accuseds’ police records and use them to jump to conclusions about any particular criminal case. Perhaps they fancy themselves to be amateur detectives.
This specific story also elicited uncharitable comments about “the homeless” and “the retarded” (their terminology, not mine.)
Often there are racist dog whistles mixed in. Yes, right here in Columbia/HoCo. I didn’t see any in this case but I may have missed them. I am highly disappointed by the social media account that ran a stock photo of a Black man’s hands in handcuffs to announce an arrest made in the case.
Clickbait, am I right?
I have saved for last the responses that make me angry every time: the victim blamers. These are almost always reserved for incidents that are sexual in nature. In this case they looked at a story about a man soliciting girls for sex and said, “Why weren’t those girls in school at nine am?” This is absolutely victim blaming. Whether these young women had a good excuse or a bad excuse, or even no excuse, they don’t deserve to be accosted with solicitations for sex. Period.
And we wonder why victims hesitate to come forward.
In cases that are sexual in nature there is always that one person convinced that the victim “made it up.” This story drew one of those as well.
I’m anxious to state that an arrest in this matter is not the end of this story. Our legal system gives a defendant the presumption of innocence. There is likely more to learn. I don’t know what that would be nor am I an amateur detective.
I’m left with an underlying feeling of disgust at the kind of bloodthirsty roiling of the waters that occurs in response to crime reports. I think that news/social media outlets contribute to this seeming frenzy by pushing out as many stories as they can while a story is “hot” in order to boost their social media “traffic”. This is not to blame this on the media alone. Each of us is responsible in how we read and assess information and in how we respond.
If we allow ourselves to be caught up on the wave of each big new story without using our critical thinking skills and putting information in perspective, then we merely become part of the big wave. Have I ever made this mistake? Probably.
I’ve probably allowed my emotions to color my assessments and then jumped to conclusions. I try not to.
Yesterday I spied someone who is a reader of this blog attempting to talk some sense into a victim-blamer in a firm but still charitable way. It made me smile. I am glad there are people like that in our community. I’d love to see more of them responding to police reports.