Are these children safe?

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Are your children safe? Are anyone’s children safe?

As publicity about crimes against children has increased, so has the anxiety about children’s safety. But are children really in more danger now than they were before?

When I was a child, my mother simply put me outdoors to play. What we did, where we went was, within certain bounds, not her concern. She had laundry and dishes and a part-time job to do. As I have detailed in another post, that lead me to active munchkin-level warfare with a gang of boys across Touhy Avenue in Chicago. Later, in Cincinnati, where our apartment complex backed up against the Longview State Hospital, we occasionally encountered demented folk who had evaded the minimum security. It did not take us long to become adept at identifying them:

“Hey, is that a dog over there or a person crawling?”

“Uhh … person.” We turned and walked back toward home.

Our primary criterion: was the person talking, to himself, or to us?

People talking to themselves we gave a wide margin of passage. If they were talking to us, we allowed them a one sentence try out. Lines that failed:

“Sonny boy, do you like candy?”

“Hey kid, got a cigarette?”

One escapee with whom we spent over an hour claimed to be searching for arrowheads. He really was. He was looking in holes, scrabbling around, and soon he had us helping. Never found any.

Later on, when we moved to a different part of town, we goofed off down at the railroad tracks. We found the charred evidence of a hobo fire, we walked two miles to beaten houses of some black-folk. We walked back as far as we dared into an enormous storm sewer. A neighbor boy claimed you could go all the way to Kenwood Shopping Center. We stopped that when we saw a mini-Niagara charge out after a storm.

In short, we survived, without supervision. Like the kids in this photo, which I took decades ago in the Noailles quarter of Marseille. This was before it was considered a colorful tourist accent. It was dark, wet, and smelled of rotten vegetables on a good day, of sheep carcasses on a bad one.

So I took a picture of the cute kids. Innocence offers itself up to the lens, or the lensman seeks it out, knowing sentiment against setting is a reliable formula.

Then four years ago in San Diego I was about to snap a baby on the beach — not an outstanding baby — when its parents sprang between child and lens, flapping their arms and hissing something about exploit and harass and porn.

It was one of those moments when you realize that the gestalt has shifted so completely that there is no point in entering into the debate. I just stopped. Now I look back on photos like this one. Stare into it. Absolutely neutral. Nobody crazy on that day. Everyone tucked in.

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