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Yes, protect kids, but also teach them tolerance


As parents, we have often told our children not to judge a book by the cover, to recognize everyone is different and that we should not come to conclusions unless we know the entire story.

But, on the other hand, we ferociously want to protect our children and their friends from harm. We teach them “stranger danger” and how to be safe.

Parents are quick to react to protect our children. Unfortunately, that mama bear instinct played out poorly in our neighboring city of West Linn last week. And because the message is so important, we felt like sharing it with our Lake Oswego readers.

An email from a concerned parent ran rampant and may have caused more alarm for children and adults than warranted and hurt the reputation of an adult at the same time.

The email told the story of a group of kids that were hanging out at Starbucks on Salamo Road after school on Feb. 26.

The email opens with: “Friends ... I don’t want to be an alarmist ... but we had an incident happen today and I cannot in good conscious keep it to myself ... if it warns even one kid that doesn’t know better.”

The parent goes on to share the story of an elderly man who approached the children at Starbucks, started talking with them, singling one of them out. The stranger then offered to “reward” the child for being smart and answering a crossword question.

The kid — with great instincts — declined.

The man insisted, went to his car and retrieved a snack and gave it to the child, who, creeped out, threw it away — again, great instincts.

However, the scene quickly escalated. Police were called. The man returned to the Starbucks, saw police, got scared and hid in the bathroom. Eventually police made contact with the man and talked with him. The man claimed he was just trying to be friendly.

“When I had to watch this guy talk to the police my stomach was turning and heart was racing and I wanted to go attack him and punch him over and over again” states the email.

The phrases “He looked guilty” and “He seems determined,” “And this guy was definitely up to no good” were also in the email. The parent went into great detail describing the man, including his height, weight, age, complexion and even a description of his car.

Although we are sure the email was full of good intentions about warning the community and protecting kids, there was also another ramification.

Having read the email from the parent and having talked to police, there are two vastly different stories. However, only one is being circulated.

According to police, the story was blown way out of proportion. The man is older, lonely and has cultural differences. He is mentally ill and was not luring children, according to police.

Not only has this email circulated widely among the community, police also said kids have now Instagrammed and Facebooked the man — turning this innocent (yes, innocent) man into a monster, a “Frankenstein.”

Really? Is this how we treat each other? Is this how we treat the mentally ill locally?

This man, who was trying to be kind, is now banned from Starbucks and is being shunned by residents of West Linn. Imagine his hurt, his pain and his humiliation after the incident. Imagine yourself in his shoes.

Yes, we must teach our children that the great, big world is not a safe place, but we must also remember to teach and practice tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness.