What does it take to appear to be an exploiter of young women in the United States? I’ve posted about some incredibly abusive prosecutions, such as the arrest of Debra Harrell, that are justified on the basis of incredibly unlikely crimes against children.
Now another aspect of this problem has surfaced with an editorial written by Jeff Gates at the Washington Post website. Gates seems to be a pretty obnoxious liberal. But his story seems to correctly identify a real problem. It started with him taking pictures of his daughters on the ferry to Jersey Shore—part of their yearly family vacation tradition. He and his wife have adopted two girls when they were babies who originally came from China.
As I focused on the image in my camera’s viewfinder, the girls stood in their usual spot against the railing at the back of the boat. I was looking for just the right pose — often waiting for that perfect smile or pausing as they fixed their hair after a strong ocean breeze. I was trying to get just the right exposure and flash combination to bring out their faces in the harsh midday sun.
Totally engaged with the scene in front of me, I jumped when a man came up beside me and said to my daughters: “I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you were okay.”
At first none of us understood what he was talking about. His polite tone and tourist attire of shorts, polo shirt and baseball cap threw us off. It took me a moment to figure out what he meant, but then it hit me: He thought I might be exploiting the girls, taking questionable photos for one of those “Exotic Beauties Want to Meet You!” Web sites or something just as unseemly. When I explained to my daughters what he was talking about, they were understandably confused. I told the man I was their father. He quickly apologized and turned away. But that perfect moment was ruined, and our annual photo shoot was over. (Only after we arrived at our rented condo did I find out I had gotten a great shot.)
As he told his wife what had just happened, he became more upset about how his daughters had been unsettled by what the stranger had said to them. Gates went and confronted the man about how he had upset his daughters only to find the man was from Homeland Security. It is not clear if he was there on the ferry in some sort of official capacity.
Gates is obviously unsettled about whether it is right or wrong to be as suspicious as that man was on that ferry ride. He definitely thinks that the man could have approached him in a way that didn’t make his daughters feel bad.
Even if he thought something inappropriate was taking place, he certainly could have approached us more gently: “What a beautiful family you have there,” he might have said to me. If the girls had answered, “We’re not his family” or had even looked distressed by his statement, then he might have had cause to question them. Instead, his words were so intrusive, controlling and damaging.
The following week on the return trip on the ferry, Gates and his older daughter tried to look at everyone around them from the perspective of a suspicious Homeland Security agent.
It was so easy to project suspicious stories onto the white woman trying to grab a black child — instead of seeing a mother running after her son. Or to suppose that an old man was taking inappropriate photos of a young girl — instead of seeing a grandfather capturing a special moment with his granddaughter.
I wish Gates had kept his “racial profiling” rhetoric out of his piece. No one was singling him out for being white and there is nothing absurd about people not immediately assuming different ethnicities are members of the same nuclear family. That takes a few more cues for people to get it.
But I would be curious to know how often the level of suspicion that Gates encountered on that ferry actually catches a criminal or prevents a crime. It seems to me that we are suffering harm from the continual assumption that we might be guilty.