04/15/2010: "-- Guest Column --"
By Heidi Hiatt
Imagine that a wanted fugitive -a known burglar, car thief, boat thief, plane thief, and vandal who has declared war on and possibly shot at the police- lives in the woods behind your house. He may be in possession of a stolen police rifle and other high-tech gear, and he has a network of supporters in the community that keep him out of custody and underground.
Living near such a dangerous person with a blatant disregard for others would make any rational person uncomfortable, right?
Unfortunately, Colton Harris-Moore has an international fan club numbering in the thousands that are cheering this career criminal on. His Facebook page alone has about 15,000 members, and some fans consider it fashionable to wear t-shirts sporting phrases like “Run Colton Run!”
Today in the news I learned that Fox has bought the rights to a book proposal by one of my fellow Washingtonians. Before Harris-Moore is caught (again) or the final chapter of his current reign of recklessness is written, Hollywood is ready to profit from the ongoing misery and fear of Northwest residents.
Never mind the people whose homes and businesses have been broken into multiple times, or the challenge of limited resources that haunts the sheriff’s deputies pursuing this miscreant in Island and San Juan Counties. Some in our society evidently have such a lack of empathy for the lives of their fellow human beings that they are ready to celebrate Harris-Moore on the big screen, as if he’s actually done something worthy of the accolades.
I suppose fans of this fugitive will continue to find this saga entertaining until it happens to them. I doubt Harris-Moore’s neighbor who had her car stolen and crashed into a propane tank in front of a pursuing deputy is gushing “Colton, marry me!” on his Facebook page. The Camano and Orcas Island residents who’ve suffered from copycat crimes that just add to the mayhem aren’t going to be proudly giving homage to a budding sociopath on their chests. Those who are making money by celebrating Harris-Moore’s scores of illegal acts are being disgustingly insensitive to crime victims and have made their victimization a sport with ringside seats.
Perhaps these profiteers would like to volunteer their houses, regular or vacation, or their personal belongings for vandalism, theft, and destruction? Maybe their vehicle? Would any of them willingly put their children and their pets in harm’s way because Harris-Moore’s behavior is “entertaining”? Would they like to take the screws out of their skylight for him to make it easier when he comes by to take their valuables? When does it stop being funny? When a cop who’s also a husband and a father -or a mother and a wife- gets shot and killed?
If Fox or other followers want to do a real service for the communities and crime victims terrorized by this fiend, they should consider filming a documentary that will dismantle Harris-Moore’s support network and smoke him and his minions out. The people who want the affected communities to achieve a much-needed economic boost from this story should consider the suffering and privacy of their neighbors first. And if Harris-Moore’s naïve computer buddies want to contribute to a cause that seems near and dear to their hero’s heart, how about donating money to the animal shelter he adopted his beloved dog from rather than spending it on tacky t-shirts flashing his smug mug?
Treating Colton Harris-Moore as a celebrity and putting him on the big screen, especially while there are still multiple active warrants for his arrest, just encourages him. It feeds his well-known greediness and narcissistic ego. This attention and adoration is fuel on the fire of a deviant mind that was diagnosed with psychological issues at a young age. It pushes Harris-Moore to up the ante and try riskier, more boisterous things. Criminals like this escalate; he’s already moved from stealing pizza to cars to boats to airplanes, and egging his daredevil antisocial stunts on will increase the risk that these communities and their public safety officials face.
Harris-Moore has been heralded as a modern-day Robin Hood or a Jesse James for the new millennium. As someone geographically close to the action I have heard him glamorized as if he’s doing some great service for his fellow Generation Y-ers. But is he robbing wealthy oil barons and giving to the poor? Is he responsible for taking down some corrupt government dictatorship? Does he stand for a noble cause and just has an unorthodox way of achieving it? Has he even significantly improved his own mother’s living situation in all his years of thievery? No. Colton Harris-Moore is about himself. He repeatedly seeks to advance his own status and position by robbing and violating others.
Ironically, the same “fans” who are amused by the victimization of communities with limited resources to fight back are going to be some of the same people who laugh when Harris-Moore dies a bitter, tragic death that he brings upon himself. Because of their low level of empathy, his demise will be just as entertaining to them as his current victimization of others. Then they will toss him on the back shelves of their minds and move on to the next cause de celebre.
Does anyone really think that this story is going to end well? That everyone’s going to peacefully settle this one lazy Sunday afternoon over iced tea, shake hands, and agree to restitution? That communities that used to be forgetful about locking their back doors, that didn’t feel exposed by the lack of blinds on their windows, is ever going to know those carefree days again?
Reality is, someone is likely to get hurt or killed. Will a band of fed-up citizens corner Harris-Moore in the woods and take matters into their own hands? Will Harris-Moore’s body ever be found after that happens? Will Harris-Moore crash land another airplane due to his beginner piloting skills, but this time on an occupied building? Will our state have to see yet another law enforcement officer, or two, or five, lose their lives in the line of duty?
Authorities don’t definitively know everything that Harris-Moore has even done, so there is no sure-fire way to know how far he’s willing to go to keep his rogue lifestyle intact. He may want to go down in some preconceived blaze of glory to ensure his status as a counterculture legend. Maybe he fancies himself to be the D.B. Cooper of his generation, but D.B. Cooper didn’t leave obvious DNA evidence on the hijacked jetliner and had the sense to bring a parachute.
While it’s perfectly normal to be intrigued by such a story and want to keep tabs on a criminal who presents a risk to strangers we empathize with, people we love, or both, it is morally wrong to portray Harris-Moore as a genius, a hero, or a celebrity. If the effort and money that is being put into this criminal worship and mockery of crime victims was invested in finding justice for those Harris-Moore has preyed upon instead, Harris-Moore would have been caught a long time ago. His predatory streak has been fed by his protectors and admirers, people who, if they really cared about him, would convince him to turn himself in to ensure his physical safety.
For the sake of crime victims everywhere, I am challenging Fox and others in the entertainment industry who seek to profit from the case of an active fugitive to at least let the final chapter of Harris-Moore’s story play out before they do this. More importantly, I am challenging them to consider the impact of Harris-Moore’s and his imitators’ and supporters’ actions upon the communities he’s chosen to offend. I challenge them not to make light of what my fellow Washingtonians have gone through, are going through, and have yet to experience. This subject should be approached with sensitivity and in a way that helps people protect themselves against such criminals.
I ask Hollywood to consider the impact that the cost of prosecuting a long list of felony cases is going to have on taxpayers in an area that’s so cash-strapped it recently let one of its much-needed sheriff’s deputies go. I’d like Fox to donate a portion of its profits to local law enforcement, crime victims advocacy organizations, youth organizations, and/or animal shelters.
I also want to see profits from Harris-Moore’s story going towards the prevention of the dysfunction, domestic violence, and drug abuse that may be contributing factors to the creation of other Harris-Moores. I would especially like Fox, specifically, to give a hefty dose of financial support to Island and San Juan County children who may live in less than ideal conditions but are choosing to live clean and productive lives rather than engage in the gluttony of self-serving violent crime.
If the entertainment industry is so intent on profiting from other people’s misery during an ongoing crime spree, and is going to glorify Harris-Moore and his kind instead of shame them and bring them to justice, then I request that they invite Harris-Moore to live in their backyards and help himself to their property. Perhaps they have a spare Mercedes to crash or an extra Cessna to burn. There is simply nothing entertaining about having a narcissistic teenager hell-bent on material gain living in your backyard.
When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it, always. -Gandhi