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By Pam Burke 

The white van is full of hysteria, not boogeymen


December 6, 2019

I shamefully have to admit that my husband, John, and I have been participating in a long-standing act of profiling.

It started innocently enough, as these acts often do. It is a game, a kind of new-age slug-bug game when we’re driving together.

Instead of trying to spot the Volkswagon Bug first, we compete to be the first person to point out white vans, and some of the sketchy looking other-colored ones, and say “Un-sub!” because 1) It’s hard to find a VW Bug anymore. And 2) since we first got Netflix a few years ago we’ve watched too many crime-solving movies and TV series — and we noticed right away that a disproportionately high percentage of “unknown-subjects” have used a white or sketchy-looking van to perpetrate a variety of crimes from heists to terrorism, and human trafficking to serial-killing.

We let ourselves be led astray by modern visual entertainment plot devices that help move a story line along because writers are too rushed to come up with original plot twists — it’s easy for an un-sub van to disappear into a see of other vans and for investigators to blame the wrong van owner.

Vans are an easy target. We thought we were being clever to notice this.

Sure, the game is a little morbid, especially those times when we start making up sinister stories about what the van is being used for at the moment. But, hey, we’re not slugging anyone in the arm.

The game was just our ironic salute to van-abundance situation, and we didn’t realize until this week that, though we are morbidly lighthearted about it, we have been participating in the intellectual decline of our society.

This practice of van-profiling has officially gotten out of hand.

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said Monday in an interview with that city’s Chanel 11 News that mysterious white vans were being used to abduct women for human trafficking and organ harvesting purposes.

In fact he didn’t just casually mention it, he said:

“We’re getting reports of somebody in a white van trying to snatch up young girls for human trafficking and for selling body parts, I’m told. So we have to really be careful because there’s so much evil going on, not just in the city of Baltimore but around the country. Don’t park near a white van. Make sure that you look at your surroundings, and make sure you keep your cellphone in case somebody tries to abduct you and call 911 right away.”

Then, because he’s the mayor of the 30th largest city in the United States and his word carries weight, local law enforcement, along with FBI agents, activated an investigation into the issue, trying to figure out who was investigating what and why this information wasn’t being shared among departments.

It turned out, though, that Young had been reading Facebook posts that had been flying around among Baltimorians the past few weeks that, like any old rumor-mill, had gone evolved from “women should be careful around vans” into “I know someone that happened to,” and ended up with “that just happened to me (but I didn’t report it).”

Young must’ve forgotten that he was a high-level public official with people he could order to call high-level law enforcement people who could’ve told him Baltimore was not in the throes of a van-related abduction craze.

It was just Facebook BS.

Baltimore City Council and local law enforcement are busy backpedaling the mayor’s claims and organizing a human trafficking education forum to make sure the public knows that driver’s of white vans are not the main threat in trafficking and organ theft. Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers, on the other hand, are trying to quell the upsurge in van-profiling.

All I know is that this whole brouhaha has ruined my fun because I don’t want to contribute to insanity that has taken a hold of people.

Plus, now I feel sorry for all the innocent vans that people are afraid of, shunning them in parking lots, using them as symbols of all the scary things that can happen to unwary children.


All that said, you know the internet is going to explode with I-told-you-so’s the next time a van is used in a high-profile crime, right? Be prepared at [email protected]


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