After almost exactly a year of covering police and public safety here at The Roanoke Times, I’m moving to an exciting new assignment at the paper — following the people and local governments of Franklin County.
The transition will occur over the next week, as I immerse myself in the ongoing threads and institutions that make the county one of the most fascinating places in the region. But the police beat reminded me of something this morning — while I was looking through the arraignments, as I do every morning.
It’s silly and wrong to think I am a grizzled veteran of covering crime, but after a year I felt fairly comfortable in saying I dealt with most of the crimes and everyday arrests that happen in a city. Then I saw the first case on the docket in the Roanoke’s general district court this morning. A man was charged with “simulated masturbation,” a crime that is named with enough absurdity to speak for itself.
As it turns out, the code section that creates that violation of the law says that “explicitly simulated” masturbation is just as illegal as actually performing the act in public. All of that is hopefully more information than anyone needed to know, but it is a sign that you never really know a topic or a newspaper beat.
We don’t become experts, we become attached to the many people and threads that together form the flow of a community. It’s an important thing to remember as I try to dig up the stories of a patch of land — known both for its history as a moonshine capital and its very different hopes for the future — that can never be fully understood, only explored.