As I walked across the street to retrieve mail from the locked mail box in our section of the block, a neighbor, who can single-handedly be called Mr. Neighborhood Watch, approached me in his usual welcoming matter.
He began by asking if I knew that the guy who recently moved into our neighborhood is a convicted child molester. I did not. After much back-and-forth discussion between the two of us about who told him and what, if any, were the repercussions, the neighbor informed me that there were small children living in the house and he didn’t think the guy was allowed to have children in his home.
My thought was, well, if they are his children, perhaps it is OK. I wasn’t sure. I asked him if he checked the Megan’s Law website, and he informed me that he did not have a computer. So the two of us looked it up on mine.
After a few clicks on the keyboard, voila, there he was — the neighbor down the street: code violations cited, age, birth date and photo. So, we returned outside and told our next-door neighbors, a young couple with one child. When we told them about the guy down the street, she said she already knew. She then added that’s why she doesn’t let her daughter play outside unless she’s watching her.
Before I could think about what I would say next, I blurted out, “When were you going to tell me? You know I have kids.” She struggled to answer and finally just said that she thought I knew. Then I asked her if she had told her daughter, and she said no.
Immediately, I removed myself, went inside and told my children that there was a child molester down the street, showed them his picture online and discussed what to do if he says anything to them — and, most importantly, warned them to never ever go to his house.
We talked about Jaycee Dugard and Sandra Cantu and countless other children who are violated daily by adults. My children asked me why people do things like this. Why, indeed?
I stand to say that the reason why it continues to happen in some of the best, as well as the worst, neighborhoods is because people don’t talk. The perception is that, as long as I protect my children, all is well. Like the ostrich, our society’s collective head is buried underground.
Going deeper, society allows children to be in their presence and even keeps the secret when a family member has been accused and convicted.
We don’t tell the children because, the thinking goes, if they don’t know, they won’t be afraid.
But knowledge is power. If they know, they know what not to do and where not to go and can protect themselves.
We need to be ashamed of ourselves. We are as sick as our secrets. Perhaps the man raped and orally copulated with a child under the age of 14 years old when he was 18 years old and it was consensual, or when he was 30 years old and it was not — I am not sure. What I do know is that I will always err on the possibility of protecting children, both mine and yours.
So, I say check out Megan’s Law online and see who is living in your neighborhood and in the neighborhoods of the schools your children attend. And when you know, let the neighbors and your children know. If more people took action against evil, evil would disappear.
• Yolande Barial is a Tracy resident and mom. She is among a select group of local residents with columns in the Tracy Press.