“Never whine. Whining lets a brute know there’s a victim in the neighborhood.”
– Maya Angelou, Letter to my Daughter
So, last Friday, a “bomb scare” (insert snort of sarcastic disbelief) shut down a swath of downtown Seattle during rush hour. Buses were re-routed, streets blocked off, the Pioneer Square station closed, and, in the end, one hapless street lunatic was carted off to jail. He had a brass pipe duct-taped to his wrist. He has since been charged with ‘threats to bomb or injure property,’ a class B felony punishable with up to ten years in prison.
The man in question has become known as the Vampire Bomber, because on the morning of his arrest, he apparently went to the soup kitchen at Union Gospel Mission and demanded human flesh for breakfast. (No explanation as to the second part of his moniker, as he was decidedly bomb-free upon apprehension.) This act inspired some of the funniest police-blotter prose I’ve read recently: “….the suspect walked in wanting to be served breakfast. He informed the staff that he was a vampire and wanted to eat people. The staff declined to serve him….” Charging documents reveal that the suspect’s name is Vladimir Lestat Augustine. Really.
This is all very amusing, of course. Except that a man is now facing ten years in prison. The day before the ‘bomb threat’ incident, Augustine appeared in mental health court, and told a judge that his anti-psychotic medication was not working, and that he needed help. He was told to return to court in a week. He’s in King County Jail instead. I won’t rehearse, here, the many convincing arguments (ethical, practical, medical, economic…) against using prisons as mental health treatment. It is clearly indefensible. But incidents like this one are troubling not only because they exemplify the inhumane aspects of our society, but because they exemplify our weakness.
We’re a country that has warning labels on plastic bags, advising us not to put them over our heads until we run out of air. I bought a bungee cord recently, and it had a warning that helpfully pointed out the risks associated with hanging oneself. We can’t really be expected to understand slippery floors, escalators, or ladders, and are issued stern advisories with big red letters when we might encounter one of the above. We’re afraid of germs, strangers, bad weather, stains, wrinkles, and riding the bus. So I suppose it’s only natural that we would be TERRIFIED of unkempt derelicts who call themselves vampire space cowboys. Or of lonely home-care attendants who get impassioned under the influence of internet chatrooms and spy movies.
Colleen LaRose, aka ‘Jihad Jane,’ was interweb-stalked for several years before getting turned in to the FBI by self-styled vigilantes. Her crimes seem to have been speaking, intending, and proclaiming. Oh, and emailing. Her indictment lists two conspiracy charges, one false-statement charge, and one ATTEMPTED identity theft charge – apparently, she either stole her boyfriend’s passport, or said she would. Or thought about doing it but didn’t. As for ‘conspiracy,’ well, that crime could be re-named ‘running one’s mouth.’ If you say to someone, “I think it’d be cool to be a martyr,” and your friend says, “Yeah, dude, that’d be wicked cool,” you can both be charged with conspiracy.
Let me just say this in plain language and a loud, slow voice for those in the back who can’t hear too good: THIS WOMAN IS NOT A THREAT. THERE IS NOTHING TO BE AFRAID OF. There’s been no evidence presented anywhere that even suggests she was in contact with ACTUAL mujahideen, or that she ever touched or saw a weapon, or that anyone she talked to ever touched or saw a weapon. Her inept mumblings on YouTube will not shake the pillars of our civilization. Her lonely email correspondence with men who want green cards will not bring our empire to its knees. If you’ve ever been in any way associated with criminals, graffitos, or drug users in any way, you probably know her type already: She’s a shit-talker. Always full of big talk about what big score is coming up, never actually doing anything, a uniquely irritating blend of braggadoccio and utter ineptness, characterized by gullibility and bad style. Come to think of it, I can’t believe how many words I’ve already devoted to this inconsequential person.
But y’know what’s worse than people who talk endless shit? The silly tricks who believe them, that’s who. America, I’m talking to YOU. You need to stop fulfilling your weekly quota of manufactured crisis by ‘uncovering’ the ‘machinations’ of clueless tools who produce disgruntled tweets. First of all, free speech, m’kay? Second, it makes you look weak and cowardly. Maybe you actually ARE weak and cowardly – that’s another story for another day. But even a coward should learn the crucial life-skill of APPEARING confident. Check this piece about “jihobbyists” in the Christian Science Monitor: “It can be a slippery slope from talking to doing.” Really, Serious Thoughtful Media Outlet? So we should respond with the full force of our expensive and unwieldy law enforcement? To random shit-talkers on the internet? Please. These folks would stay busy with eHarmony and World of Warcraft if you didn’t feed their self-important delusions by taking their pathos seriously. Your flustered and overblown attention gives meaning to their feeble gestures. Stop it.
Because the street already knows. As a coda, I would like to offer this encouraging anecdote from the scene of the ‘crime’ – a friend was walking up Third Avenue last Friday, while the Vampire Bombing was in progress, and saw the snarl of police tape and vehicles up ahead. My friend asked a guy on the streetcorner if he knew what was going on. “Nothing,” the passerby pronounced. “Just more media bullshit.”