Everyday Ethics

One pictures the kidnapping of young Jaycee Lee Dugard, pictures the little girl snatched from her family, and the mind simply goes blank with horror. Worse–unimaginable even–is the 18 years of slavery and sexual torture she must have endured in that suburban backyard compound.

Police are now admitting they could have done more–indeed, in 2006 they missed an opportunity to rescue her from her captor, Phillip Garrido. According to the article:

“On November 30 2006 we missed an opportunity to bring earlier closure to this situation. A caller to our 911 dispatch offered that there were tents in the neighbors back yard, that people were living in them, and there were young children.
“The caller also said that Mr Garrido was psychotic and had a sexual addiction.
“We made contact with Mr Garrido in the front yard of his home.
“The responding deputy determined there was no misbehavior, and warned him there were restrictions to living outside in a residential neighborhood.
“He did not enter or request to enter the backyard.”

Let’s leave aside the failings of the police. I’d like to congratulate this unknown neighbor for calling 911, and also pose a question: Why don’t more of us stick our noses in?

As I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’m one of those who are reluctant to step over unwritten privacy boundaries. Yet as this case shows, there are times when civic duty requires that we overcome our discomfort with confrontation. Had more people questioned what that whackjob Garrido was doing in his backyard compound; had more people kicked up a fuss…

Well, who knows if it would have helped in this instance–and in Skip Gates’ case neighborly concern certainly backfired!–but I think as a general policy, “If you see something, say something” isn’t such a bad motto to adopt. Perhaps victims of domestic abuse, for instance, wouldn’t feel so alone if they knew their neighbors had a kindly concern. 

Would it be so hard to stretch out a friendly hand, or, when appropriate, pick up the phone and call in the authorities? Are we afraid of being shamed? Attacked? Starting a feud on our home turf? What’s the right thing to do and how do we handle such matters delicately? I don’t know the answers. (As that prior post proves, I’m kind of chicken-livered when it comes to dealing with my neighbors.) I just wonder, is it our fractured, self-serving society that allows heinous crimes like Jaycee’s kidnapping to go on right in our backyards? Couldn’t we make a bigger effort to concern ourselves with those living in our immediate vicinity? 

Tell us: Do you have a nosy neighbor story to share? How’d it work out, good or bad?

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