A man in his 60s ends his daily walk at a middle school football field. He’s not from this country, and his English is broken. His American Dream was to offer his children better opportunities. He’s retired after a long career as a dishwasher at Legal Sea Foods. He happens to be black.
The man takes a seat to answer a cell phone call from an old friend. As they’re talking, about 40 students are running around the field, playing games in gym class.
Suddenly, one of the gym teachers is yelling at him. He’s not sure what’s going on, but it’s clear the teacher wants him to leave the field right now. So he goes.
The teacher calls the assistant principal to report that the man had “adjusted himself” by putting his hand down the front of his pants for 3-5 seconds.
Let’s be clear: in this case, “adjusting” isn’t a euphemism for something sexual. The teacher was clear. The man’s movements were consistent with making himself comfortable, and not consistent with masturbation.
Nevertheless- in an abundance of caution, the teacher tells assistant principal, just in case. What if he doesn’t? He might get trouble!
The assistant principal – in an abundance of caution – calls the police, just in case. Best to find out if this guy is a known criminal. What if he doesn’t? He might get in trouble!’
The police officer races to the scene and finds out the guy has no criminal record. In an abundance of caution, she writes a report for her sergeant. What if she doesn’t? She might get in trouble!
The sergeant – in an abundance of caution – attaches the report to an application for a criminal complaint. It’s best to let the clerk magistrate decide whether this amounted to lewd and lascivious conduct – a sex crime. What if he doesn’t? He might get in trouble!
The clerk magistrate – in an abundance of caution – issues criminal charges. It’s best to let the district attorney’s office decide if this is worth prosecuting. What if she doesn’t issue charges and this guy turns out to be a serial something or other? She might get in trouble!
The assistant district attorney decided – in an abundance of caution – that there’s no way he’s dismissing this case. What if someone accuses him of not taking sex crimes at schools seriously? He might get in trouble!
Finally, about a year later, the judge decided what everyone already knew, but no one wanted to be risk stating aloud: there was never anything criminal about a man “adjusting himself.” Not guilty.
But what if the judge didn’t?
Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 272 Section 53 punishes people convicted of lewd, wanton and lascivious behavior with imprisonment for up to 6 months in the House of Corrections and a fine of up to $200.
This man might have gone to jail over shifting his penis from one side to the other.