Chris Jepson: Ya never know

Chris Jepson

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What’s in a name? You move into any new community and various landmarks, parks, streets or buildings will be named after significant local civic leaders. Sometimes there are plaques listing what Mr. Big Cheese did so long ago that today we still offer public acclaim and our gratitude. He could be a Founding Father or community benefactor or, perhaps, a longtime public servant who made many memorable impressions on the local citizenry (maybe over multiple generations). Only to one day discover he was lower than pond scum.

I am not sure what will ultimately be revealed about Fleet Peoples Sr., how many lives he adversely affected, but I suggest his name will soon be excised from the local park paying tribute to his many “contributions.”

It must be extremely painful for a lot of people, not only the ones he betrayed and abused but for those who personally thought him a wonderful human being. It is such a monumental deception. Perhaps he was a neighbor or a fellow civic club member. Perhaps you punched a clock with the man, had an occasional drink after work or sat in the pew behind him for years. Without a hint, without an inkling, that he molested children.

The only crime more reprehensible than rape is child molestation. Sure, murder ranks right up there, but the first thought entering my mind when I hear of a slaying is, “Did he have it coming?” I jest but just slightly. To betray the trust and confidence of a 6-year-old child, well, suffice it to say, prison isn’t sufficient punishment if I were holding the scales.

Jerry Sandusky of Penn State abused children for decades. It set back a nationally recognized football program (horrors!), cost university administrators their careers and the institution a monumental settlement. He tarnished so many reputations besides his own that the fallout will be felt for years. But, time will inexorably pass and the stain marks will slowly fade from the “long ago” removed statues and plaques. A generation from now, college freshmen will ask, if at all, “Jerry who?”

But for those still living such betrayal never fades. Another German concentration camp (Auschwitz) guard (Johann Breyer) was recently identified living in America (Philadelphia) and will be extradited back for a trial. He denies any participation, offering only that he was there but did nothing. It’s a particularly hard sell to me that you had a “job” at Auschwitz, that it was merely bureaucratic — the “benign” desk job claim. It’s the Sergeant Schultz (see: “Hogan’s Heroes”) “I see nothing” defense.

His neighbors, no doubt, considered him a quiet model citizen, maybe a little heavy with the German accent, but a good, decent law-abiding neighbor. Imagine the realization that you lived next door to a mass murderer. Shocking! And it begs a question or two.

How do you live with yourself knowing that you are a pedophile, a rapist or sadistic Holocaust guard (whether or not you followed orders is meaningless)? More specifically, how do you do the despicable and still mow your lawn, take out your garbage and wave to your neighbors while heading off to work? How do present normalcy when “horror” has been (is) your modus operandi?

Stealthily for sure. So many crimes and not the least is the violation of public trust. It is an egregious tear in the fabric of human relationships. We think we know another human being. Think again. Sadly so.