The Good Samaritan is now a Criminal
This week while scanning through the news I happened to find an article which has perplexed me so thoroughly I still do not know how to wrap my head around it. It is not often I express my own feelings or opinions in my articles, in fact, some readers who know me well comment to me how amused they are that I can play devil’s advocate so convincingly; so please forgive me for expressing the way I truly feel about this story. The truth is I do not know what to think. Reading this made me feel angry, frustrated, confused, annoyed, sad, and provided me with a bitter reality check at the same time. Hopefully by the end of this article I will understand my own feelings on the subject, and help you think your way through some of your own.
On March second a blizzard hit the Chicago area. Famous for bitter cold snow storms, Rodney Peterson, a married father of three, and the fourth on the way, saw two 13 year old girls walking in the storm without coats or hoods. Concerned for their wellbeing, Rodney stopped and attempted to ask the girls how far they had to walk. When they told him they would be fine Rodney shrugged his shoulders and drove away. Three days after this good deed the police came knocking on the door of the Peterson home, informing Rodney he was being charged with disorderly conduct, and he now faces a $750 fine.
Never mind that Rodney did the right thing–the decent thing; there was nothing disorderly about what he did. To be charged with disorderly conduct is clearly in this case an implication that Mr. Peterson was a sexual predator. The police felt they had to charge him with something, and because offering a ride home in the freezing weather is not a crime they settled with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. When I first read this story I was shocked to say the least, as I am sure many of you are right now. I was raised in the South where doing the right thing and caring for others is not just a way of life, it is expected. We are raised to give the shirt off our back if an honest person is in need. Courtesy and decency are a way of life in the South, and my wife and I have found that the town I grew up in–which has exploded in population in recent years–no longer reflects this the way it used to. In short, it no longer feels like a part of the cultural south. Because we want our children raised with these values we have decided we would like to settle down somewhere that more accurately reflects these values, so one can imagine my disgust at reading this article. In this one incident I initially found myself upset at what our nation had become. Is being a Good Samaritan now a criminal offense? Do we want to isolate ourselves so thoroughly that the extent to which we desire our social life to be limited to is television or computer screen? I can remember as a child when it was an American value to do the right thing. In middle school the entire administration once looked the other way, foregoing any punishment when I stepped in and forcibly removed a bully from harassing another student. I know that is the right thing to do, but I feel as though teaching my children this will result in criminal assault charges and expulsion from school if they are ever faced with the same situation; yet I would want them to act just as I did, and stand up for a child being hurt by someone two years their senior.
It was not long ago that the national political discussion contained debate on a Good Samaritan rule. This law would prevent criminal or civil prosecution against a stranger who may have accidentally harmed someone while stepping in to help someone in need. For instance, if the girls had chosen to ride home with Mr. Peterson, and there had been a collision in which one of the girls received a whiplash injury, Rodney would be protected by the Good Samaritan law. Or if someone giving CPR to a stranger accidentally breaks one of the victim’s ribs with chest compression, they too would be protected. When and where in the last decade did we go from this type of discussion to charging someone with disorderly conduct for being concerned two young girls might freeze? How can a legal system succeed if it is slapping fines on citizens for doing the right thing?
Following my initial frustration, a thought occurred to me: what if Rodney Peterson actually had been a sexual predator? What would my thoughts be toward a man who used a freezing snow storm to take advantage of two young girls’ vulnerability to the elements and trust in society to lure them into an unthinkable situation? Most likely a dichotomy of my initial reaction. In an illustration of the class possessed by Rodney Peterson, he even commended the two girls for their quick thinking, saying he would hope his girls acted the same way. Tragically, in the world today we must teach our children to be vigilant against this sort of disgusting evil; far too often we find that people are not as innocent as we would like to believe, and the consequences of trusting someone like this cannot be over exaggerated Gone are the days in which we were able to trust a stranger. Reading this article made me reflect on life the way it used to be, the way so many of us wish it still could be; a life where you could count on your neighbor for anything, trust a man on his word and a handshake, offer a hitchhiker a ride without wondering if it is a good idea, and let someone in the checkout isle at the grocery store hold our children. These are the values I was raised in in the South, we did the right thing simply because it was the right thing do; that was all the motivation we needed, and that was part of our American patriotism. It broke my heart, and angered me at the same time that out of concern for our own personal safety, and that of our children, in the world of today we have to be suspicious of altruism. We have to teach our children to be suspicious when someone does the right thing: like trying to make sure they do not freeze to death. It is unfortunate to say that those girls did do the right thing, but the surely did.
With my frustration over the initial situation overcome I still did not feel much better. How could the police charge a man for a crime in which he clearly was innocent. $750 is a significant amount of money for a family expecting a fourth child in this current economy. How could the justice system be so brazenly unjust? A charge which clearly implies their belief that this man, who does the right thing, is somehow a danger? Police told Peterson that if he was concerned he needed to call 911—even though we are constantly told not to flood the emergency dispatchers with calls unless it is a life or death situation. The police wanted Peterson to do exactly what they tell us not to do, and charge him with a crime for following their instructions. Then I had to ask myself the same question: what if Rodney Peterson actually had been a sexual predator? Knowing that children had recently been kidnaped in the area, what would I be thinking about the way they do their job if Mr. Peterson had turned out to be the culprit, and the police had done nothing because it appeared he was trying to do a good deed? The truth is, charging Peterson with a small misdemeanor charge put his information on their records. If their investigation later produced evidence that he indeed was the kidnapper, they would not readily have his records available to help with an arrest without this charge. If he had been a sexual predator, letting him go without any charges might have led him to move to an area where he had not raised any red flags. If that were to happen there would be no criminal activity on his name, thereby making him harder to locate if he had been a criminal, and evidence had surfaced. Unfortunately the police had to take precautions the same way the girls had to; it was not necasarilly that they thought he was guilty of anything, but they have been taught–and correctly so–to take all precautions in matters such as this. Letting something like this slip, in a world where these crimes are far too common, could be the difference between catching a real criminal, or letting him slip through the cracks.
Despite the fact that all three parties–Peterson, the girls, and the police–did the right thing we still end up with a man, a good man, one who does the right thing, being charged with a crime. The message in this is unmistakable: the line between the grossest of criminals and the best of men has become so blurry that good men must be charged with crimes as a consequence of doing the right thing. I cannot feel angry because it had to be this way; i cannot feel sad because these girls made a choice that could have led to an arrest that would save many lives from being destroyed. I suppose i just feel bewildered. Not even the greatest country in the world can be immune from the consequenses of the decisions made by a few terrible men. Our world has changed: this is no longer our fathers’ America. I suppose seeing such a dramatic example of that is what troubles me most of all.
27 March, 2012
Posted on March 28, 2012, in Patriotslog Articles and tagged disorderly conduct, Good Samaritan, Good Samaritan Law, innocent man accused, Rodney Peterson, sexual offender, Sexual predator, snow storm. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.