Sunday, November 27, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Bears in Them Woods

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Nov. 27, 2011

Fifteen years ago, Santa Fe’s municipal judge sent a dire warning to local newspapers and radio stations about the dreaded Blue Star acid “a small piece of paper containing a blue star. They are the size of a pencil eraser, and each star is soaked with LSD.”
Does showing this on my blog make me one?

A few years before that, the Santa Fe Police Department put a warning about a possible “gang initiation” in which prospective gang members cruise around in the dark on city streets with their headlights off, then murder the first hapless boob who flashes his lights to alert them.

Both the Blue Star LSD and the “gang initiation” are urban legends that have been taken seriously by those involved in the criminal justice system in Santa Fe and elsewhere. I was reminded of these warnings last week when the Attorney General’s Office emailed reporters with a warning about a new menace called “PedoBear.”

The news release quoted Attorney General Gary King saying that his Internet Crimes Against Children unit “has received reports that the PedoBear window sticker has been sighted in Albuquerque on at least two vehicles recently. We are very concerned about the potential link between the PedoBear symbol and pedophiles; we also want to increase public awareness of the potential danger to children, especially young girls.”

Images of this cartoon bear
have been associated with
picnic basket thieves
The news release included a flier and a photo of a Jeep in Albuquerque sporting a decal of the sinister cartoon bear.

A wolf in bear’s clothing: PedoBear started out as a Japanese anime cartoon character. Apparently some anime fans began posting his image on online forums if they thought someone was saying something inappropriate about children. It was a joke. Black humor.

But last year in California, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department issued warning about actual pedophiles adopting the symbol as a way to attract children. It’s almost identical to the one sent out by King’s office. Both contain the following text:

“At the San Diego Comic Con 2010 in July of this year, law enforcement discovered an individual dressed in a PedoBear costume, handing out candy and being photographed in contact with attendees, including multiple children. Once identified, the young man and his costume were excluded from the family-friendly event.”

Last year the flier made it to Tulsa, Okla., where police told a TV reporter that the guy at Comic Con was a convicted sex offender. He wasn’t. The TV station had to retract it.

Why do I get the sinking feeling that this also may be the story of that Albuquerque Jeep driver whose vehicle is in the attorney general’s press release? If there have been actual arrests of actual pedophiles using this symbol, it sure hasn’t shown up in any of these law enforcement warnings.

Protect the children: King spokesman Phil Sisneros said his office is aware that PedoBear started out as a joke. “... unfortunately, our investigators here and others around the country have found that pedophiles indeed have adopted the joke symbol and use it to identify each other. ... I guess we figure if we can prevent one child from being molested it is worth any ridicule we might get for publicizing this.”

I wish I had a buck for every bad piece of legislation passed or policy implemented based on “if we can prevent just one child from being harmed ... ”

Sisneros said that a sticker alone would never be the sole reason a suspected pedophile is investigated. “Just displaying the sticker is not against the law,” he said. “But it could draw the interest of law enforcement.”

Or maybe vigilantes.

Here’s an idea: Watch your kids. Tell them not to take candy or rides from strangers. But don’t get hysterical about every weird warning issued by well-meaning government officials.