Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I like Neighborhood Watch groups, but sometimes they are blinded by fear, and perhaps a little boredom. A member recently forwarded a viral warning about a sinister new tactic for luring drivers into a trap.
"There is a gang initiation reported by the local police department that gangs are placing a car seat by the road...with a fake baby in it...waiting for a woman, of course, to stop and check on the baby. Note that the location of this car seat will usually be beside a wooded or grassy (field) area ...and the person - woman - will be dragged into the woods- beaten and raped- usually left for dead. DO NOT STOP. DIAL 9-1-1 AND REPORT WHAT YOU SAW!!!"
This had all the signs of a hoax. "Local police department" (which one?), an alleged first-person account (but from whom?), and an alleged threat to women (them being more vociferous consumers of scary viral emails – men prefer forwarded videos of "extreme walking" mishaps).

Another neighbor pointed out to the sender that Snopes.com had debunked the rumor months earlier, as well as other bogus "gang initiation" crimes such as gooey eggs thrown at windshields and ominous flashing headlights. That should have been the end of it. But the sender defensively asserted that "it" really happened in nearby Cobb County and that she is "told by many police officers not to rely on Snopes because, as you can see, they make mistakes."

What mistake? Snopes correctly pointed out that the verbatim email about the fake baby in the car seat was a new version of a bogus email circulated last year and that no law enforcement agency could verify its validity or that such a phenomenon was happening at all. Even if Snopes hadn't done the legwork, a little Googling would have shown multiple versions of the story with vague geographical references and no verifiable attribution. Besides, what a silly tactic. The "gang" is really so sure that a vulnerable woman will stop instead of a burly man?

In fact, the entire notion of "gang initiations" that target civilians is itself bogus. Gangs are criminal enterprises that make money through outlawed activities, namely drugs, gambling, and prostitution. They commit violence to maintain or expand their "turf." They have absolutely no incentive to attack civilians, because they know the result would be a merde storm rained down upon them. When a civilian is attacked (mugging, carjacking, convenience story robbery), it is likely a freelancing drug addict funding his habit, not an up-and-coming gangbanger.

The HBO series "The Wire" did an excellent job depicting the motivations of gang members. In five seasons, the only murder of an innocent bystander was part of a scheme to pin the murder on a rival criminal. It worked. Marlo's henchman shot the soda delivery woman, told the clerk to blame Omar, and indeed, Omar soon found himself in jail.

There are things to watch for in bedroom communities like ours. We have had real cases of fake meter checkers trolling for unlocked backdoors, hoping for a laptop or a fist full of jewelry. We have not had any fake babies in strollers, and I am confident we never will.