Theodore's World: An Unexpected Result for Some Census Takers: the Wrath of Irate Americans

« Remembering Bob Hope's Service | Main | Napolitano: Internet Monitoring Needed to Fight Homegrown Terrorism »

June 21, 2010

An Unexpected Result for Some Census Takers: the Wrath of Irate Americans



An unexpected result for some census takers: the wrath of irate Americans

By Carol Morello

Washington Post

This is the scary season for the nation's census takers.

Since they began making follow-up house calls in early May, census takers have encountered vitriol, menace and flashes of violence. They have been shot at with pellet guns and hit by baseball bats. They have been confronted with pickaxes, crossbows and hammers. They've had lawn mowers pushed menacingly toward them and patio tables thrown their way. They have been nibbled by ducks, bitten by pit bulls and chased by packs of snarling dogs.

Some days, being cursed at seems part of the job description.

So far, the Census Bureau has tallied 379 incidents involving assaults or threats on the nation's 635,000 census workers, more than double the 181 recorded during the 2000 census. Weapons were used or threatened in a third of the cases.

Now, with just three weeks to go in the door-knocking phase of the count, the number of census takers has dwindled, and the remaining households are the toughest.

While most homeowners have received census takers graciously, some say they have been surprised at the degree of anger exhibited by Americans who consider them the embodiment of intrusive government.

"I came across loads of hostility," said Douglas McDonald, who summoned police in Deltona, Fla., after a tug-of-war with an irate homeowner over a census form. The homeowner threw his ripped half in the toilet.

McDonald, 70, a District native who retired from the Labor Department after 30 years as an investigator, said he wasn't prepared for the level of anti-government fervor he encountered.

"There's so much anger and bitterness, with people losing their homes and their jobs," said McDonald, who eventually quit. "They're not too fond of the government. They don't want to talk to you."

Sherri Chesney, 46, said she was cursed and spat at during follow-up visits in Houston. One day, she encountered a woman working in her garden. Chesney showed her census badge, she said, prompting the woman to launch into a tirade: "I don't need the blankety-blank government snooping in my business." Then she threw a metal patio table at Chesney, who escaped injury by ducking.

"I was stunned, I really was, that America is so mad at the government," said Chesney, who no longer works for the census. "People don't know what it's like out there. It's scary and dangerous, and it's not worth my life."

Census officials say they do not consider anti-government sentiment more widespread than usual this year. But Fernando Armstrong, the Philadelphia regional census director responsible for Maryland and the District, said it seems to be more vociferous.

"It's the degree of passion they have," he said. "When they don't want to participate, they really don't want to participate."

In the Washington area, the threats made to census takers have been infrequent, and no one has been harmed.

Some of the attacks elsewhere represent random violence, such as a robbery at knifepoint in Richmond, Va., and a carjacking in Connecticut. In some situations, the job turned unexpectedly dangerous, as for the Baltimore crew leader who was fatally shot seven times while sitting in his car and the Wisconsin census taker who knocked on the door of a man who tried to drag her into his apartment.

Other workers were beset by mean-tempered animals. Wendy Soto, who was knocking on doors in California, still can't move two fingers after being attacked by a pit bull that pushed open a security door.

Among the more troubling were incidents that arose from residents' seething resentment that anyone from the government would seek their personal information.

Some people pointedly mentioned President Obama.

While conducting follow-ups in an upscale Seattle neighborhood, Grover Ellis said he came across a woman who considered him an agent of Obama, not the U.S. government.

"The idea of the census just enraged her," said Ellis, 64, stressing that the overwhelming majority of people he met were welcoming and responsive. "The way she saw the census, she was required to help Obama. And she wasn't going to do anything to help out Obama."

Police have been dispatched after confrontations between census takers and property owners who posted No Trespassing signs. As federal government employees, the census takers are not breaking the law by disregarding the signs.

But try telling that to a homeowner with a crossbow.

In a rural part of California's Nevada County northeast of Sacramento, two census workers told authorities that a man ordered them off his land. He mentioned his submachine gun, then followed them down the drive with a crossbow in hand. No charges were brought against the resident, the sheriff's department said.

A homeowner in Marion, Ohio, called police, saying he had just used his baseball bat against a stranger on his property. The perceived interloper was a census taker who told police the resident flew off the handle as soon as he mentioned the word census. The census taker was struck in the forearm, warding off blows from the aluminum bat. The resident was charged with felonious assault.

Dallas regional director Gabriel Sanchez said occasional encounters with dogs and protective property owners are par for the course in any census.

"It's not that people are waiting to gun down a government worker or waiting to assault a census worker," he said. "Some people have a strong need for privacy and being left alone. I'm sure they would treat the FedEx man the same way."

Soto, the pit bull victim, says census takers should be permitted to carry weapons, such as pepper spray, to ward off harm.

"If I'd had pepper spray in my pocket, I probably would have had a good chance of not losing my hand," said Soto, 38, who was earning $15 an hour and saving for a vacation with her children and a used car.

The dog bit Soto in the stomach, leg and hand. The census is paying for her doctor's bills, medication and replacement clothing. She doesn't know when she will be physically able to return to her regular job as a special-education teacher's aide.

Steven Jost, a spokesman for the Census Bureau, said it is unlikely that the policy prohibiting census workers from carrying weapons will be rescinded. After the 2010 census is completed, officials will examine all incidents to determine whether changes are needed to reduce risks, for both workers and the public. The number of verified incidents might go down after analysis.

Chesney, for one, won't be back for another census unless she's offered an office position.

"I want to help my country," she said. "I want us to have funding for schools, and all the things that are involved with the census. But I'm not putting my life at risk."

Wild Thing's comment........

LOL Christopher Walken answering a census. it is great !

I realize there are good people that get jobs and take the census. Where we live there were three couples that are on the board at the Golf Club here that went around and took the census. They would not allow outside census takers in to the area I live, it is a very guarded community. We were glad and apparently they made a deal to do it within our community and then turn in the information instead of letting the government workers do it. LOL All they did wss drive up in a golf cart, rang the door bell and asked Nick how many lived in our house and was it our main residence. Then they said have a great day and left. hahaha We had already filled out and mailed in that stupid card anyway.

The thing is we have learned a lot about how ACORN and other obama people were to go out and take the census. Heck I was hoping they would come to our house just so I could tell them off for voting for obama. heh heh

It is hard to have any sympathy for anyone that voted for obama no matter what the situation. Just how I feel about it and them.

....Thank you Mark for sending this to me.

3rd Mar.Div. 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment
1/9 Marines aka The Walking Dead
VN 66-67

Posted by Wild Thing at June 21, 2010 07:48 AM


A senseless worker hung up on me the other night after I told him to quit bothering us with BS phone calls.... We completed the forms and sent them in three months ago and this is THEIR process! I should have spoke German?

Posted by: darthcrUSAderworldtour07 at June 21, 2010 02:18 PM

Actually, 379 nationwide incidents involving assault aren't too bad when you consider that many people are probably assaulted daily in NY City.

All you have to do is tell the census worker you don't want to speak to them and either close the door or walk away. They will leave. I have a friend who is a census taker and that's what he said they're trained to do. No need to get belligerent or violent with them. Now, if they become pushy, that's another story.

Posted by: BobF at June 21, 2010 07:12 PM

Darth, LOL good one.

BobF., I agree, when you state it with the numbers like that it is not bad at all.
Thanks for sharing about your friend.

Posted by: Wild Thing at June 22, 2010 12:37 AM

Thanks, Chrissie, I grabbed the SNL census taker skit and posted on fb LOL...good one

Posted by: jan at June 22, 2010 08:18 AM