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The grinch who stole Halloween

Published October 22. 2011 09:01AM

Sometimes government intrudes in our lives in absurd ways.

That's what I thought not too long ago when a local council in Naperville, Illinois, passed an ordinance banning the tossing of candy from parade floats and trucks.

The ban was enacted because town fathers said children were rushing into the street after the candy and could get hit by a parade vehicle. Officials also expressed concern that items thrown too hard could cause injury.

The town didn't really outlaw candy at parades. Instead, they simply insisted that people need to walk alongside the floats and hand out (or maybe toss) the candy from the area near the sidewalks. No tossing from trucks or floats.

Residents of Naperville rebelled. "This is a nanny state," said one resident. Another said, sarcastically: "I'll sleep better at night knowing that Naperville is protecting me from candy." Everyone had an opinion one way or another, but the law was enacted.

According to a cop in Ohio: "The kids see the candy as a treasure and they'll run straight into the street for it," said Fort Mitchell Police Chief Steve Hensley. "It's like they have tunnel vision when they enter the street."

Personally, I felt the candy law was overkill and unnecessary. I considered Naperville council to be the grinch who stole Halloween. But then something changed my mind - a Halloween parade in our own area.

It was night-time and the floats and fire engines were passing by. Well-meaning volunteers aboard trucks were throwing piles of parade candy into the street where it bounced randomly.

In the excitement, a small boy raced into the street with many other toddlers to retrieve the goodies. The boy, about 4, rushed to pick up a Tootsie Roll which had rolled in front of a moving truck. Without a care, he darted directly in front of the truck's large front wheels. The truck driver was oblivious to the fact the youngster was there. Onlookers screamed warnings but the parade noise was too loud for the driver to hear.

Standing on a nearby porch, I saw the event unfold and felt my heart racing. The truck came within millimeters of crushing the boy's head and hand. By chance, the vehicle slowed just enough for the boy to escape and make it back to the curbside. One might ask: "Where were the parents?" It's a logical question.

The parents were standing on the sidewalk engrossed in their conversation about last week's soccer match or which fabric softener makes your clothes springtime fresh. In their defense, parents can't be expected to keep an eye on their children every moment. I realized that night that thousands of grown-ups at a parade can't protect an innocent child or keep him from darting out into traffic for candy.

Those few moments changed my opinion about the way we toss Halloween candy at parades.

And that's when the irony struck me: Adults show kids the way. Adults teach kids how to safely cross a street. Adults show kids how to safely exit a burning building. Adults teach kids to be wary of strangers. Yet, during Halloween parades, adults randomly toss candy from moving vehicles, essentially enticing young children to run up to the moving wheels of floats and trucks - all in the darkness of night.

It'd be unbelievable if it weren't true. You just can't make this stuff up.

Candy, of course, should always be a fun part of a parade. But it should be distributed by folks who walk alongside the vehicles. That's the safe way to do it. Many towns are now adopting that practice.

There's no doubt in my mind that the day will come when it will be illegal and unacceptable to toss parade candy from a moving truck or float - not only in Illinois, but everywhere. "The throwing of candy and other objects is strictly prohibited," say the rules of the annual Millersville, Pa., Community Parade.

In the meantime, many other towns wait for a tragedy to happen before doing what is right. Tossing candy that lands around the wheels of a truck is tantamount to playing Russian Roulette with happy, vulnerable children. I'm not a fan of big government, but I believe we need a law to address it. Sometimes common sense needs to be legislated.

I think lawmakers in Naperville, Illinois, did the right thing. There are good grinches and bad grinches. In this case, the grinch who stole Halloween isn't so bad. He's a grinch who's avoiding tragedy, and that's the best treat of all.

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