We have reached the stage of the Great Clown Panic when real clowns have started to worry about profiling. In Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the Cumberland Times-News reports, "members of the Classic Clowns Club have been alarmed by news reports in which police have asked anyone who sees a clown to call 911. The troupe members often travel in costume, and worry that, if someone notices a van full of clowns and calls the police, they could end up in legal trouble."
It isn't an absurd thing to be worried about. I mean, it is an absurd thing to be worried about, but unfortunately a lot of people are being absurd. The scare has reached the point when police agencies—in this case, the Tennessee Highway Patrol—are tweeting things like this:
THP says watch for clowns trying to lure children in to the woods. They are possibly predators. Call 911 or *847 pic.twitter.com/7AaEOj4WuE
— TN Highway Patrol (@TNHighwayPatrol) September 24, 2016
In a subsequent tweet, the highway cops acknowledged that the photo wasn't actually taken in their state, explaining that it was "circulated via social media." They failed to add that it was not, in fact, a picture of "clowns trying to lure kids into the woods"; nor did they note that no one since this scare began has corroborated a single account of a clown trying to lure a kid anywhere. Instead they said they were "promoting awareness."
Even when the authorities try to tamp down the rumors, they sometimes do it in ways that could reinforce the scare. In Putnam County, Florida, the sheriff's office announced this on Facebook:
It's good that they let people know the sightings weren't real. But Putnam County is not "clown free." There are professional clowns who work there. I hate to be literal-minded about what was probably intended as a lighthearted post. (Even cops like to clown around.) But given the kinds of things that other officials have been saying, maybe the sheriff's office should think twice about how it puts things.
When I use the phrase "things that other officials have been saying," I'm not just referring to stuff like the Tennessee tweet. In Paw Paw, West Virginia, the Cumberland Times-News reports, Police Chief James F. Cummings posted notices around town warning people to expect a violent response if they don the joker's garb. "If someone sees you dressed like this they have the right to defend themselves," the announcements said. "It is not normal for clowns to be running around like idiots all year long. I will stand behind anyone who feels they need to protect themselves from these so-called clowns. So, to sum it all up, if you run around in a clown suit, you should probably expect for citizens to beat you (for their own protection), then get arrested by police."
So what's a harlequin to do but go into hiding? In Oakland, Maryland, the Times-News informs us, members the Ali Ghan Shrine Club's clown unit are "giv[ing] some thought about laying low for a while." The Shriner-clowns are still doing daytime events, but they have withdrawn from one nighttime parade and are thinking about dropping out of another. "With all this stuff going on," one of the clowns told the paper, "we decided not to go to Hagerstown for a parade at night."
Bonus link: Wikipedia on the Evil Clown of Middletown.