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Suspicious White Powder … Again

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Well, yay, I have two recent incidents to add to my Suspicious White Powder files. The first comes from a Tucson hasher, who passes on an email posted to her neighborhood listserv about a month ago:

Good morning Neighbors,

Does anyone know what the white powder that is on the ground all over the neighborhood is? It is in little piles in random places all over. I’m worried because my dog got a lick of one of them. Please share any info if you have any.

The second was posted today to a hashing group on Facebook. It comes from a Birmingham, Alabama hasher, who linked to this online news article:

White powdery substance left at downtown buildings not harmful

Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service gave the all-clear after a morning probe into a suspicious substance found along 2nd Ave North.


Jerry LaSuer, who lives along Second Avenue, said he saw the substance when he left his downtown home this morning to walk his dog. The groupings of powdery substance are about the size of a softball or a little bigger, and are in front of doorways to downtown homes and businesses.

LaSuer said his partner first spotted the substance late Tuesday night. LaSeur saw it again today and called police.

“It looks like talcum powder,” he said. “And it looks like it was deliberately placed there.”

(click the headline to read the whole article)

Regular readers know I have a thing for suspicious white powder scares. Sometimes the incidents I write about are funny, sometimes they’re not. When they’re funny, it’s because non-hashers turn into bedwetting ninnies when they see flour on the ground. When they’re not funny, it’s because the bedwetting ninnies turn out to be the authorities, who then come after us once they figure out we’re the ones who left the flour. And believe me, sometimes the consequences are serious.

It’s not just because of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks that followed. Suspicious white powder scares go way back. The first case I ever heard about was in Dallas in the early 1990s. It started when hares laid trail through a black neighborhood. Residents saw these short-haired white guys running through the hood, ducking into alleys and leaving flour and chalk marks here and there, and took them for skinheads. Worse, they assumed the flour marks and chalk symbols they left behind were signals for other skinheads, similar to the chalk marks brownshirts would leave in front of Jewish homes and businesses in Germany back in the day. They thought they were being set up for hate crimes and the police were inclined to agree with them. Local hashers had no idea what kind of trouble they’d stirred up until the story hit the papers, and then of course they contacted the police and tried to defuse the tension.

I don’t think any Dallas hashers got in trouble over that incident, so it probably went in the “funny” column at the time, but now that I think back on it, were the people who lived in that neighborhood justified in their fears? If there had been a record of racial incidents or hate crimes in that part of town, they probably were.

My point is, we need to be mature enough to understand why non-hashers and authorities misinterpret what we see as innocent trail marks. Sometimes there’s a reason people over-react.

No, I don’t know what the answer is. Immediately after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, some hashes switched from flour marks to chalk arrows in urban areas, since chalk arrows were less likely to be mistaken for little piles of weaponized anthrax. Or cocaine, or whatever. Other hashes started adding food coloring or tempera paint power to their flour. Some hashes started calling local police and fire departments on the day of the hash, telling them what neighborhoods they’d be running in.

I don’t know if any of these techniques really work. Non-hashers and authorities still over-react from time to time, and probably always will. When I’m haring, I try to use common sense. There are places — shopping malls and school campuses are two examples — where flour marks might be a red flag, and when I lay trail through areas like that I use arrows instead. When I’m out in the shiggy, though, I go through flour like a madman, ’cause who’s going to even see it? Situational awareness, I believe, is a hare’s best friend.

But hey, tomorrow I might read a story about suspected satanists in running clothes marking the sidewalks with chalk pentagrams and broken-cross symbols, so who knows?

I’m a hasher, and one way or another I’m going to keep on marking trail for my friends. I’ll try to use situational awareness and not get my friends — or myself — in trouble with the Man. Sorry, bedwetting ninnies, but that’s the way it is.

© 2014, Flying Booger. All rights reserved.

About Flying Booger  Hash House Harrier, man about town.


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