Vogel: The ghoulish line between fantasy and fiend in the 'cannibal cop' case
I recently heard my neighbors arguing loudly. One of them finally screamed, "I want to kill you!" before slamming the door and leaving. Should I have called 911?
When does an angry fantasy cross the line into reality?
That's at the core of the "cannibal cop" case. New York City police Officer Gilberto Valle's wife discovered her hubby was visiting a dark fetish website where he fantasized -- or was it really a plan? -- to kidnap, kill and eat women, including her. On Monday, the judge ruled that the jury can't be shown some of the most gruesome images she saw on Valle's computer.
Some are indignant that Valle got past the NYPD screening process and into the department. But what did they expect him to say -- "By the way, I'm an aspiring cannibal"?
In the past, Valle probably would have kept his weird fantasies to himself. Today, he could easily find fellow cannibal enthusiasts on the Internet who share his Hannibal Lecter-like fixation. Nowadays, whether you have a desire to eat humans or have sex with gerbils, there's probably an online forum to match your weirdness.
And while it's understandable that most people are creeped out by such sites, there's an argument to be made that they provide a safe outlet to deal with these demented desires without acting on them.
The question in Valle's case is, did it go beyond fantasy? Did he stalk potential victims (he had a list of names and addresses)? Threaten them? Was money exchanged?
I totally get those who warn that it would be too late to do anything if and when he actually acted out his grisly fetish. And if he were fantasizing about a woman close to me, I'd go berserk.
But do we really want to become a nation where you can be arrested for improper thoughts?
Where would it stop? Should the actress who posed on the website with an apple in her mouth be prosecuted for promoting cannibalism?
It doesn't appear that Valle actually ate anyone, though he clearly crossed the line if he accessed a law-enforcement database for his debauchery.
Meanwhile, my neighbor has returned and all is quiet. Obviously, I was wise not to call 911.
Or was I?
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.