Wednesday, July 12, 2006

For Everyone's Good... Spy On Your Neighbors????

We were supposed to do it after September 11, remember? Just in case the little old lady next door was a closet terrorist in between bouts of cookie making. She did chase my children with a broom one day, so maybe I should report her. Of course, the kids were picking her flowers, so it's a tough call. Maybe it's my kids who were the terrorists. You never know.

We already have at least one publicly-accessible list of the criminal behavior of our neighbors. You can go to the website for your state government and find out where convicted sex offenders live. Honestly, I don't know how I feel about this. I want to protect children. I know that true sexual predators don't get better. But I haven't looked to see if there are any such people in my neighborhood. I find the fact that I could know vaguely unsettling.

Now the state of Tennessee has launched a website where you can track your neighbors convicted of methamphetamine offenses. Yes, meth is a drug that truncates people's lives. Yes, it's dangerous. Must we track the people who've done their time forever, in order to feel safe? And really, the tempest about meth labs has always struck me as a diversionary tactic from policy makers who don't know what to do about health care or education or any of a host of thorny problems.

And then, continuing the enforcement-first strategy popularized by our President, there are vigilante groups with websites tracking people they think might be illegal immigrants. I can give you a link, but I really don't want to inflate their statistics. Try a google search on "NoInvaders"; you'll find it.

And all of this begs the question. How normal must our neighbors be? How un-scary? How like us must they be, before we start to worry and make lists and plot public humiliation and vigilante strategies? Can we not find any space for tolerance anymore?

Actually there's a bigger question. What have we become?

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