Burt Prelutsky

I don’t know how long urban legends have been with us, or why it is we never hear about rural or even suburban legends, but it seems to me there’s been a major change in these silly things over the past few years.

It used to be that one would hear about little carnival turtles being flushed down toilets and morphing into huge man-eating tortoises in the city’s sewer systems. Or occasionally one would hear tell of a boa constrictor mysteriously showing up in some city dweller’s apartment. Another popular urban myth concerned a cuckold filling up his rival’s car, typically a convertible, with cement.

But these days, the most common folk tale is that every kid who is killed by a cop or a gang member is an honor student, sort of the way that tabloids used to identify every hooker who was ever arrested or murdered as a Hollywood starlet.

I first became aware of this phenomenon when my son was in high school. At least every other month, or so it seemed, I would read about some poor innocent teenager, invariably an honor student, being shot down in the street. Nearly without fail, when I’d ask my son if he knew the victim, he’d inform me that the 10th or 11th grader was a known drug dealer.

In the area of youthful criminality, things have become so absurd that whenever a black or Hispanic teenager is arrested, we are assured by his mother, his attorney and a complicit media, that he’s the one who is the victim -- a victim of a bigoted white society and a racist police force. Not too long ago, a 13-year-old punk here in L.A. swiped a car, went joy-riding, and when he was finally cornered, tried to drive over a cop. When the officer shot him in self defense, his mother was treated like the parent of a martyr. Nobody dared ask her where she was and what she was doing when the adolescent was out on the streets committing mayhem at 4 a.m.

Funny, for years whites were told we were never to refer to blacks, no matter their age, as boys. But let one of these teenage gang-bangers get collared for anything from rioting to rape and, suddenly, everyone from their lawyers to the editorial staff at the L.A. Times is insisting they’re only boys, just tots, mere toddlers.

The other big lie that’s caught on in a big way is global warming. I suspect this is strictly an urban legend because in rural America, farmers have the experience and the commonsense to recognize the cyclical nature of climate.