I just saw on the news that Madelyne Gorman, the woman who beat up her kid in the Mishawaka Kohl’s parking lot, turned herself in. Apparently she is also one of the Travelers. The story on NBC said that the Travelers were a group of itinerant workers (sorta) who do a lot of driveway repair (among other kinds of work) and are frequently connected with petty theft. Um.
The Travelers are the folks who, in Ireland and Scotland, used to be called Tinkers. They travel around doing odd jobs — in SUVs and pickup trucks instead of wagons, these days. Among themselves they speak a fascinating English dialect called “Shelta” that includes large dollops of cant, Romani (“Gypsy”) and Gaelic words. They don’t have houses, pay and get paid in cash, and make cash loans among themselves to start the young kids off. This kind of community self-investment and low overhead (no rent or mortgage!) pays off big in small self-owned businesses, so many hardworking Travellers make a good living.
If you can name me an ethnic group or a profession in America that isn’t frequently connected with petty theft, I’d like to know. I have great confidence in my fellow fans at science fiction conventions, for instance, and in my fellow SCA members. I leave my stuff strewn around with a fair amount of confidence it’ll be there when I come back. Buuuut I know for a fact that there are thieves in both groups, because occasionally somebody is caught “mislaying” people’s stuff. Human nature.
But if you have a nomadic group and a few bad apples, law enforcement tends to assume that all the nomads are bad apples. I can understand their reasoning; “don’t trust strangers” is a simple rule to follow. It’s just not fair, that’s all, and tends to lead to the kind of horrible injustices that have been done against the Travellers and the Rom in Europe.
So let’s not all jump on the “Gorman is an abuser/Gorman is a Traveler/Travelers abuse their children” bandwagon that NBC seems ready to begin. We can do better than that.
Here are some Traveler links:
The fight for justice: the Barrett family of Galway: includes the sad story of an Irish Olympic athlete still being penalized for being a Traveller.
Parish of the Travelling People: Archdiocese of Dublin: a nice outreach and anti-prejudice effort.
Travellers’ rights in the UK Essay on The Patrin Web Journal, which mostly deals with Rom rights.
Lyrics to Ewan MacColl’s “Freeborn Man of the Travelling People”, from his famous Radio Ballad show/album The Travelling People, over on Dick Gaughan’s site.