Over at Backboards and Band-Aids, we've got an interesting discussion about public safety. EE, the host, recently saw a guy on her college campus offering free hugs. She just felt uneasy about the situation and called a campus police officer about him. He turned out, not surprisingly (at least to me), perfectly legit. He just wanted to, well, give free hugs to anyone who wanted one.
She's defended her actions, saying the guy just seemed creepy and that we should always trust our guts. Basically, better safe than sorry.
Now, EE's no crackpot, at least as far as I can tell. I'm not sure if she's old enough to drink, but she's already happily married with a baby on the way, in charge of EMS at a hospital and attending college on her own, studying pre-med. She's accomplished a heckuva lot more than a large majority of folks her age (when I was her age, I hadn't accomplished as much as she has either), and has my respect in general.
Reluctantly, I beg to differ with EE on this one. Simply appearing or acting "weird" is no reason at all to call the authorities.
People do indeed behave suspiciously, and sometimes their behavior needs to be checked out by police and maybe others. I myself have posted previously about how certain behaviors, however much you or I personally may mean no harm doing them, can definitely be cause for suspicion. My message has been - Put yourself in other people's shoes as much as possible, look to see if what you're doing could give reasonable people cause for concern, and if so minimize it or stop it as much as you possibly can.
For example, following a woman walking alone at night and approaching her in a dark, deserted area definitely gives her reason to wonder if you intend to beat or mug her - or worse.
Looking inside a parked car that isn't yours? Or multiple parked cars? Especially while acting furtively like you don't want to be seen doing it? Definitely suspicious.
A simple feeling that someone is "creepy" - or, as EE put it - weird? That's a horse of a different color. In a free society, people are going to do things and generally live their lives in ways that some other people are going to find creepy or weird. In fact, there are some free spirits, offbeat characters, call them what you want, who do this more often than others. Many other people find it much more comfortable to blend in and not do anything unusual - and of course that's their right - and so maybe nobody will feel they're being weird.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. Anyone has a right to avoid anyone else for whatever reason. If you feel someone is weird and you don't want to be around him, feel free to give him a wide berth. If he approaches you or contacts you, tell him to get lost. If at that point he persists, go ahead and call in the law.
The point is, in a free society where we pride ourselves on respecting diversity, simply not understanding someone's behavior or feeling uncomfortable around someone isn't a good reason to call the cops. At that point, you cause other people inconvenience, upset and perhaps worse, and I think it's only fair to have something definite - what the police like to call "specific articulable facts" or "reasonable and articulable suspicion" - before you do.
It also gives the police something definite to investigate. If all they can say is "Someone felt uneasy about whatever you were doing," how is the person going to respond to that? S/he may not even know who felt that way, let alone why.
It certainly is important to minimize murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries and other crimes. It's also important to keep our society a welcoming place for individuals and communities of all types, including - no, especially - those who like to do offbeat things and introduce the rest of us to new ways of living. I think the above approach is a good balance of our needs.
You might say "But what does this have to do with Aspies and autists in particular?" Good point. We have no specific reason to believe that the "free hugs guy" was an Aspie, for example. Plenty of NTs find themselves in such situations.
However, we Aspies and autists are disproportionately likely to be stigmatized as "weird" based on our mannerisms, staring or not holding eye contact, an uneasiness in our body language which simply means we feel we don't fit in but could be taken as sneakiness or even guilt, etc. We really need to help lead the fight for fairer treatment, because if we stand by and watch while NT nonconformists are hassled because of how they "make" people feel...well, what are we going to say when it happens to us?
What do you think?
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