An Arlington resident attending a recent lecture suggesting ways to rear ethical children got a surprise, one that raises issues about our gun-nervous culture.
Police pulled Jim Wendelken from a discussion called "How to Raise Ethical/Thoughtful Children in The Age of #MeToo" at the Ottoson Middle School on Nov. 15 because someone believed he had a gun. He told police he had no gun, and none was found.
This is a story about how someone's initial appearance may differ sharply from the reality, Perhaps, the story suggests, we may have to take steps to get to know our neighbors better.
Wendelken, who moved to Arlington in September with his wife and two children, first told his story on the Arlington List Facebook group, on Friday, Nov. 16, and it drew a flurry reactions. Don't look for it there, though, because the lengthy threads have been deleted. DID MODERATOR DELETE? Wendelken has provided screen shots of the discussion, some of which are published here with his permission.
"So I go to a lecture by myself sponsored by the Arlington School District at the Arlington Middle School ... attended by about 30 or so adults," he writes on Facebook.
"I sit in the front because I often have a difficult time hearing. The speaker opened with a dialogue with the audience, and the audience wasn't participating so I thought I'd break the ice. I open with a question about nurture/nature. About whether coercion can instruct on what is good — and is there any method known to making children care?
"The speaker seemed to like the question, and it seemed to kick things off rather well. About 10 minutes in, two women briskly leave the lecture. I wondered why they were moving so quickly.
"About 15 minutes later, three Arlington police arrive and walk up to me and ask me if they can talk to me. I leave the lecture with the police, and they tell me someone in the audience called the police because they thought I might be dangerous -- that I may have a medical condition or that I might hurt someone — that I might have a gun."
Here, Wendelken tells how he may have responded to officers: "no no gun. You can check my pockets. no weapons ....
"They said I could return and I said I'm not really sure if I want to. I talk to the organizer and tell her what happened and she said the women who left are the ones who called."
Turns out, the women did not call police. But clarifying this matter, and others, means checking with a number of people, steps that are not usually taken during assumption-filled Facebook discussions.
A key point about Jim's story is his plea: "So I'm baffled Arlington. I really don't know what to say or do for you. My wife is fitting in well, though. She loves her new job!
Can anyone give me any insight as to why that would happen?"
To try to answer that, consider some facts.
The summary above was the initial report about how Wendelken saw an innocent evening dissolve. What do police say the facts are?
To find out, Wendelken requested and received a report about the case after a YourArlington plea was rebuffed. Reason: Wendelken has a "medical condition," a police spokesman said. Whether or not he does is a matter of debate, but disclosing it is part of this story.
The report, published with permission, says that about 7:45 p.m. Nov. 15, Officer Joseph Canniff responded to the Ottoson "for a suspicious male party inside the cafeteria." Sgt. David Martin and Officer Will Milner also responded. The report says a school custodian made the call.
The custodian told police that two women approached him and said a male party sitting in the front row was "acting suspicious." The females stated the male was "shaking uncontrollably and seemingly playing with something in his pocket." One female told the custodian she is concerned that the male may have a firearm.
Police said they advised Wendelken of these concerns and, the report says, he "stated he has ADHD and cannot control his fidgeting."
Wendelken told police he had no firearm, and an officer pat-frisked him and found none. Police checks the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services, or CJIS, with no results.
Wendelken went home, and one officer remained outside Ottoson.
As to the police report, Wendelken has a few issues with what the women told police: "My knee bouncing up and down is not the same as 'shaking uncontrollably,'" he wrote to YourArlington on Nov. 28, adding that the only thing "shaking" was his knee.
He wrote: "I may have retrieved my phone from my pocket and put it back several times, but I don't recall 'playing with anything.'"
More significantly, he takes issue with what police wrote. "I did not say that I had 'ADHD' -- I said I was hyperactive and preferred standing when listening. ... I have not been diagnosed with the disorder."
He also wrote: "I did not say that I could not control my fidgeting. While it takes some focus, concentration and can be a bit uncomfortable, I am more than capable of sitting completely still and listening."
The report says he has two daughters at Thompson. He notes he has two children, one at Thompson.
He has requested the 911 call, but has not heard back. STILL TRUE?
Wendelken also asked one of the women involved at the Nov. 15 meeting to check the accuracy of the police report. She responded Dec. 1: "I think the report is mostly accurate but lacking in context.
"I do remember my friend saying to the janitor that she thought you had something in your left pants pocket and knew it was not your cell phone because you were holding it. I think an important detail (although I guess it wouldn't appear in a police report) is that I clearly stated that you had not done anything wrong and that I thought we could be totally off base.
"Also missing is that we offered to stay and talk with police to provide more detail, and we were told not to."
Wendelken reflected on what had taken place just before the holidays: "The situation was essentially a perfect storm."
He offered these points, making clear he had a valuable conversation with one of the women concerned that night:
-- "There’s likely subconscious motivations: I wasn’t a familiar face, I wasn’t dressed well, I was a male by myself, which makes me a rare demographic at a #metoo event about child education.
-- "There’s the media -- increasingly alarmist and increasingly present in our every waking moment.
-- "There’s the movement -- While protesters and activists rightly try to garner more attention on the gun debate, they also increase the anxiety and fear that these events cause.
-- "There was me -- the woman who called me explained the behavior that scared both of them. I was bouncing my knee up and down and I repeatedly looked at my phone and the clock on the wall. I was actually listening, but I wanted to do what I normally do when when on the phone, reading, working or listening, which is stand up.
"For this reason, I normally sit in the back. But when the event started, I was having difficult time hearing, so I made the unusual decision to sit in the front.
"I attended a recent event, and I scanned an audience I knew was bored. Not once, did I see anyone acting as erratically as what was ascribed to me. My behavior was indeed strange and unusual.
"So I would say I need to be more aware that people are traumatized. I can’t sit in my own eccentric bubble unconcerned or unaware that people may misinterpret it as violent anymore. (Even as I write this my knee is bouncing.)
-- "There’s whoever said 'gun' or 'shooter' or 'violent' first. One of the policemen told me that someone said I might be violent. Specifically, the officer said they said I might have a gun. I’m not sure who said that, but they probably shouldn’t have used those words.
“See something, say something” doesn’t necessarily mean run from an event in fear telling someone who isn’t there they need to call the police because you’re scared. In this case, it means I think someone needs to check on this situation -- and then stick to the facts. If they felt they had to call, they should’ve been clear that they just wanted someone to check on the situation and stuck to the facts.
“However, if that’s the case, the custodian ... could have spoken to the organizer of the event. I know the impulse; when you overreact, there’s a desire to justify it by exaggerating the cause to match the emotion.
“There’s the women, who I’m certain were genuinely afraid, who overreacted. One of the women who called me told me they scan the exits for escape routes wherever they are, whether at a movie or at the grocery store. To her I would give this advice, Don’t do that. If you catch yourself doing that ask yourself, “What are the odds?”
The National Safety Council puts the odds of dying from a mass shooting in the U.S. as somewhere in the range of 1 in 11,125 — about the same chance of dying from a dog attack or legal execution, he wrote.
Ask yourself if the odds match the level of anxiety or fear that you’re experiencing, he wrote.
He said he spoke to a top administrator at Arlington Public Schools and she told me that fear about a mass shooting at the school is at an all-time high and she fields concerns weekly about a potential shooter. WHO? SUPERINTENDENT?
"I believe, as does she, that we all really need to get away from the news, put these tragedies in perspective and calm," he told YourArlington.
This news summary was published Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.