Note: A version of this column was originally published shortly after 9/11. Since then, from time to time, it has seemed appropriate to submit it again as a way of expressing the frustration of a populace whose leaders simply will not listen to their will. I offer it again in that spirit.
Imagine you are a child growing up in a small town. You have always felt safe there. The crimes of big cities seem distant from your serene world, where no one ever locks the door.
Then one night your next-door neighbors are murdered in their home, which is burned to the ground. Drawings of the suspects are printed in the newspaper. The sheriff says they speak a foreign language. No one in your town looks or sounds like that.
Your parents gather the family together for a reassuring pep talk. “The men who did this will be brought to justice,” your father assures you. “Until they are caught, I will protect you.” Then your parents announce that the front and back doors of your home will not only remain unlocked; they will be left standing wide open.
You are astonished. Murderers are out there - loose! Why don’t we just bolt the doors? Why doesn’t the sheriff just stop people who look like them? Your mother says that would be “profiling.” You don’t understand what she means, but the way she says the word, it must be worse than what the murderers did.
Miraculously, nothing happens for five nights. On the sixth night, you hear a noise downstairs. You wake your parents and follow your father down to the kitchen, where you discover a suspicious-looking man rummaging through your trash. He is mumbling in a foreign language, he is dirty, and you can smell his foul odor from across the room.
Your father opens the refrigerator and tells the man to take what he wants and to turn out the lights when he is finished. Amazed, you ask why he doesn’t just throw this man out and lock the doors. He tells you that locked doors are not the way of your town. “Besides,” he says, “do you want him to hate us?” Angry and confused, you go back to bed and listen to the sounds of the filthy man in your family’s kitchen.
Over the next fourteen nights, six men wander into your house and take what they want. One night, you open your eyes to find one of them standing over your bed. In answer to your screams, your father simply puts his arm around the man and escorts him downstairs to the refrigerator. The next morning, your family discovers their home theater system is missing. Your mother shakes her head, while your father simply shrugs.
On the second night of the third week, just before you fall asleep, you smell something that sends chills over every inch of your body. Gasoline! This time you don’t wake your father. You reach for the phone and call the sheriff, who arrives just before one of the strange looking men in your living room lights a match. The men are arrested and taken to jail.
The next morning, your father tells you that you were right all along. He announces that he is having a security system installed in your home immediately, which he does. That night, you hear someone trying to open the back door. When they are unsuccessful, they start yelling and pounding on the house.
When you open the door to go to school the next day, your back yard is filled with angry people carrying signs expressing how unfair your family is for locking their doors and installing an alarm system. They scream at you, saying that you and your family are bigots, that you hate people who are different, that you are a “racist.” You don’t know what that means, but you know that life in your town will never be the same again.
Doug describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. Readers are encouraged to email him at email@example.com and/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.