I often am reminded of the fable about a man who cried because he had no shoes, but upon seeing someone without feet realized just how lucky he was in comparison.
This can be true of one’s chosen occupation as well. Sometimes when I think journalism is a really hard profession and how could I have been such a numb-skull to get involved with it in the first place, I look around and see where others have it much, much worse.
One of the first things that usually comes to mind when I’m in this mood is what a difficult job law enforcement officers have. Not only do they put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us, they sometimes must make split-second determinations about laws being broken and when to intervene — or not.
I mean, do you overreact and maybe arrest someone who hasn’t really done anything wrong and risk being accused of abusing your authority, or do you sit back and take a chance of people getting hurt because of your inaction?
Of course, the choice is clear-cut when you see a masked man running out of a bank carrying a money bag, but what if you’re faced with a REALLY menacing scenario: a female armed with a pair of naked breasts?
One might not think this is such a threat to the free world, but consider that there is a bill now working its way through North Carolina’s legislative channels which effectively would make their public display a felony.
It’s important to remember that we’re not talking about the whole breast here — just the nipple and the area immediately surrounding it called the areola, not to be confused with the Rockola Cafe.
What the proposal does is incorporate the nipple, and that other item I have trouble spelling, into the legal definition of “private parts” in the state’s law on indecent exposure.
The whole thing stems from a women’s rights rally last summer in Asheville which involved a topless protest.
Now I understand the need to protect the public from blatant acts of indecency. Certainly a man who exposes himself to children should be locked up and the keys to the jail thrown away because of the long-term damage that could cause.
However, I don’t see where acts of baring female breasts pose any such harm to the point of being classified as a felony. Unless they are really unsightly — for example, covered by ugly tattoos or piercings.
After all, dictionary definitions of felony include “an offense, as murder or burglary, of graver character than those called misdemeanors.” The early English definition sounds even more severe: “any crime punishable by death or mutilation and forfeiture of lands and goods.”
Again, if I were a law enforcement officer and simultaneously witnessed a woman littering and another baring her breasts, I would not hesitate to arrest the litterer first — even though her crime would only be a misdemeanor.
It’s strange that talking on a cell phone while driving is not illegal in North Carolina, even though distracted drivers have been known to kill people, but a woman exposing her breasts might become a felony.
(The only danger I could see from that is if they were really spectacular and some gawking motorist plowed his car into a tree.)
This whole situation begs the question, what does our society have against the female breasts to the point that members of the N.C. General Assembly are compelled to classify their appearance, or at least the nipples, as a serious crime?
They don’t seem to be weapons of mass destruction, and in fact provide nourishment to newborns. (At least legislators had a big enough heart — which also is part of the chest area, by the way — to include an exemption for breastfeeding, which will keep innocent babies from going hungry.)
But I recall several years ago during the Super Bowl, when our supposedly tolerant and evolved populace went completely nuts after Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” led to a brief breast exposure on national television.
Somehow, the depiction of violent acts on TV in which some guy gets shot through the head and blood and brain matter spews everywhere is perfectly acceptable — but not the flopping out of a nipple.
This gets back to my original premise about law enforcement officers often facing difficult decisions while in the field, which a new breast law might complicate.
It seems to me that one’s first inclination would be to carefully judge the size of the evidence (excuse me, the weight of the evidence). Then inform the “offending” young lady that if she didn’t cover herself immediately, matters would be taken in hand and she’d be hauled off to jail.
So I suppose that if I were a policeman encountering such a dilemma, even though it involved a felony, the emphasis would be on enforcing the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law.
But does this mean that when it comes to cases of exposed female breasts, Officer Joyce could be counted on to look the other way? Not a chance!
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or email@example.com.