Cambridge to ban criminal element
By April 1, 2008, when a controversial ordinance enacted by the Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council goes into effect, Cantabrigian parents and guardians must have secured new homes outside the city limits for all children under 18. Parents who fail to comply will face loss of custody, a $25,000 fine, and possible arrest.
The measure is intended to protect the children of Cambridge from exposure to real and potential sexual predators, and in some cases from each other. While many Cambridge residents have voiced their approval, others have expressed reservations.
"They've got it backwards," says dissenting mother Taffy Bingerhickie. "We should start by banning all known sex offenders. Then we should establish checkpoints, and enclose our city with an 18-foot electrified fence topped with razor wire and patrolled by German police dogs. The last thing we should do is send our children out into a world of perverts. This is madness."
"We can't turn Cambridge into a fortress," counters Wally Semp of Shielding Children from Ubiquitous Sexual Predators (SCUSP). "Other communities -- Tupelo, Cincinnati -- have erected fences, and it doesn't work. We'd need at least a 30-foot stone wall, and then we'd just get child rapists swimming the Charles River, parachuting into Harvard Yard, and tunneling their way in from neighboring communities -- places like Charlestown, where people live in cardboard cartons and don't even wash."
The Children Out of Cambridge Ordinance (COCO) was passed 6-3 on December 24, 2007, after months of heated debate. The initiative was spearheaded by Bambi Keckenbless, SCUSP's executive director.
"Our overarching concern," says Keckenbless, "is our children's well-being. We'll insure their safety even if it kills them."
Cambridge, a community where 72 percent of the population has, with the aid of caring therapists, recovered long-repressed memories of sexual abuse, has special insights into the horrors of sexual predation. Only in Santa Cruz, California, have such insights translated more forcefully into a social agenda.
The America's Promise Alliance (APA) recently cited Cambridge for the third time as one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People in the United States. According to Neil Bush, a member of the organization's Board of Directors, "COCO is entirely consistent with Cambridge's commitment to APA's mission to keep all children physically and emotionally safe, wherever they are."
More than seven thousand families elected to participate in a mass relocation program called Sailing Away from Everlasting Base Abusers Roaming Grossly Everywhere (SAFEBARGE). On February 23, 2008, in a scene recalling the evacuation of British children from bomb-damaged London during World War II, weeping parents shepherded their offspring onto a fleet of barges moored at a Charles River boathouse near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The barges crossed Massachusetts Bay, made their way through the Cape Cod Canal, and arrived two days later at Hoboken, New Jersey, where prepubescent passengers were bussed to a former maximum security prison outside Orangeburg, New York.
Children aged 13 to 17, including the entire student body of Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school, were transported separately to Puberty House, a gated estate in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, where they will remain sequestered under close supervision until their 18th birthdays.
"Teens are special cases," stresses Bambi Keckenbiess. "It's not enough to protect them from sex predators. We must protect pre-teens from teens, and teens from their peers. We must protect society at large from adolescents, while protecting adolescents from themselves."
"Adolescents have simply got to go," adds Lyle Wumbernuck, who campaigned for the exclusion of teenagers only. "They need to get lost -- along with their cell phones, iPods, acne, raging hormones, airhead chatrooms, creepy MySpace pages, and repulsive wispy tufts of pubic hair. They're sex predators unto themselves. Every one of those brats deserves a spot on the sex offender rolls. I ask you, who but adolescents would have invented cell-phone porn? Their schools are nothing but sinks of perversion."
Property markets see silver lining
Along with other local schools, both public and private, Cambridge Rindge and Latin will soon be converted into luxury apartments for sale to childless adults.
Some parents who opposed COCO are accompanying their children out of Cambridge in protest. Others are temporarily boarding their offspring with friends and relatives in the Boston area and beyond. Still others are welcoming the new law as a means of escaping the rigors of parenthood.
"I expect to spend more time listening to Schoenberg," says Dr. Sylvester Fett, who teaches applied mathematics at MIT. "My wife and I agree that while our children enabled us to access the parenting experience, which we've treasured, the parenting experience grows stale shortly after it's unwrapped."
As The Guide goes to press, about 12 percent of the child population of Cambridge still remains inside the city's borders. Harvard freshman Dilbert Hardwick Pempley III, 17, Lesley University freshman Jessica Flice, 17, and MIT doctoral candidate Yung-wei Ching, 14, are joining in a class-action suit against the city, hoping to forestall their evacuation.
"Members of the City Council cater to the majority," stresses Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons. "We can't please everyone. I must say this is the biggest thing to hit this city since rent control came acropper. It's an exciting time for us all."
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