Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Hysteria Builds

by Kyle Michaelis
Why do I feel compelled to stand up for the scum of the universe? It's a question that continues to bother me in the face of an ever-expanding movement to impose tight restrictions on the residency of sex offenders across the Midwest.

Why? Because it doesn't feel right. Because this seems to be a lot more about cheap political points than about sound public policy or protecting children. Perhaps most of all, precisely because it is so difficult to stand with these "lowest-of-the-low" who have committed some of the most heinous and vile acts imaginable.

Part of me wants these criminals to suffer and doesn't give a damn about their rights. I do reject the notion that they can ever truly pay their debt to society. But, we are a nation of laws...and here the inflammation of our passions and our outrage - not our reason and intellect - are being used in targeting a defenseless and indefensible population. America has too weighty a history of injustice to tread on such territory lightly.

This doesn't mean we can't craft good laws punishing and restricting those who committ evil and disdainful acts, but we do have a duty as a freedom-loving democracy to take great cares when doing so. It is this care that is lacking in the rush by cities and the entire state of Nebraska to prevent a flood of displaced sex offenders across our borders.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
It's even more critical that Nebraska enact statewide law limiting where sex offenders may live, now that the City of Lincoln is considering such restrictions, State Sen. Gwen Howard said Tuesday.

Her comments came after Lincoln Mayor Coleen Seng said she had asked the city's staff to draft a proposed ordinance that would restrict where sex offenders could live.

If approved, it would add Lincoln to a rapidly growing list of cities and states that prohibit sex offenders from living in large areas within their boundaries.

Such a law took effect in Iowa in September. South Sioux City and Dakota City, Neb., both just across the Missouri River from Sioux City, Iowa, have since enacted ordinances.

Some members of the Omaha City Council have expressed interest in an ordinance, and the Sarpy County cities of Papillion, Springfield and Gretna also are considering them.

"I am concerned that if Lincoln does not act, we could see a migration of sex offenders who have been affected by the laws of other communities," Seng said. "We need to do what we can to protect our children."

Howard praised Lincoln for "getting on the bandwagon."

But the senator said the ordinances ought not be enacted in a patchwork fashion. "It needs to be statewide, not just in urban areas and large cities. This happens in rural communities, too," she said.

Howard said she would introduce a bill when the legislative session starts in January.

Some other lawmakers said they thought residency restrictions are an ineffectual way to deal with sex offenders.

State Sen. Carol Hudkins of Malcolm said a Lincoln ordinance most likely would push sex offenders from there into the small neighboring towns in her district. But she said she didn't think such a law would prevent predatory behavior or that one could pass the Legislature.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said he would oppose residency restrictions. He said such laws make pariahs of people who have paid their penalty under the law. Communities will be no safer if they are pushed underground.

The laws "are an overreaction, politically motivated and counterproductive," Chambers said. "They do not protect children, they have nothing to do with protecting children."

Lincoln's mayor agreed that questions remain about such a law, including which offenders should be covered and what places should be protected.

Iowa's law bars anyone convicted of a sexual offense against a minor from living within 2,000 feet of schools or child care centers. Some communities also are banning offenders from areas near parks, libraries and playgrounds.

Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said the proposed ordinance needs to be thought through so it doesn't lead to unintended consequences.

Among factors to consider are the potential for state action, the effects of Lincoln restrictions on the rest of Lancaster County and the effects of restrictions on sex offenders living in group homes or treatment facilities in the city.

Casady said that if he had his way, there would be no sex offenders living in Lincoln.

The city has 426 registered sex offenders in residence, including 197 offenders classified as Level 3, the most dangerous. Casady said 57 sex offenders are at the Lincoln Regional Center, which has the state's only treatment program for adult sex offenders.

Two lines in that article just stick out in the above article and bother the hell out of me: 1)State Sen. Howard's praising Lincoln "for getting on the bandwagon"; and 2)Police Chief Casady's stated desire that there "be no sex offenders living in Lincoln." Both of these comments reveal a dangerous mindset and raise serious concerns about the true motivations behind this push - not that the people advocating such laws are bad people (or legislators), simply that they may not realize their own vengeful and impractical purposes.

The following map of Council Bluffs demonstrates the full extent of these residency restrictions ridiculousness:

Quite simply, there is nowhere left for these people (criminals, "scumbags", monsters, but people nonetheless) to live. The accompanying and quite enlightening World-Herald article on the difficulty of enforcing this new Iowa law reveals:
It's not too hard for Deputy Sheriff Jim Matthai to tell sex offenders where they can't live in Pottawattamie County, now that Iowa's residency restrictions are in effect.

Telling offenders where they can live is a lot tougher....

"Realistically, there is really nowhere that a sexual offender can live in Council Bluffs"...Matthai estimates that between 85 percent and 90 percent of offenders in the county will have to move....

The only residential areas not off-limits are one mobile home park and several neighborhoods with newer, high-end homes....

Responding to fears that sex offenders would be corralled into small areas, the Des Moines City Council passed an ordinance last week extending the 2,000-foot restriction to include parks, swimming pools, libraries and recreational trails. That essentially excludes sex offenders from living in the city.

Several other Iowa towns have taken similar steps, saying they had to enact their own ordinances because the state law created pockets of sex offenders....

Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan said Des Moines' move has spurred debate in all corners of Iowa and in communities across the border in Nebraska. "Des Moines," he said "is tightening up, and other cities are saying, 'Wow, what do we do?' If you don't follow suit, all of a sudden are you the haven?"

This is insanity, and it can't be allowed to spill over into Nebraska. If states are going to impose these restrictions (which is their right, though the 2,000 ft. requirement may simply be too burdensome), they have a concurrent responsibility to see that cities and townships don't just "jump on the bandwagon" and impose an endless assortment of restrictions of their own that serve to evict undesirables from the entire area.

This is un-American. We can not pick and choose who is an American and who has rights as such. If this can happen to sex offenders, it's appalling but only slightly exaggerated to say that this could happen to anyone.

Admittedly, sex offenders are more deserving of the scorn and discrimination of years past than that faced by Communists, homosexuals, and people with the wrong skin color. But, there must be limits on our thirst for vengeance and, yes, even limits on the lengths to which we go "to protect the children," a cry under which every freedom we hold dear could be sacrificed.

The line must be drawn. It is where we draw these lines that defines us and by which we will one day - ourselves - be judged.


Anonymous Mr. Wilson said...

Excellent post on a tricky topic. I've been crafting a similar post in my head, but I have yet to put finger to keyboard. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great post! It really does bring to light the prejudice that is being pushed through our states. Perhaps some of the scorn is warranted.
People would rather think of these offenders as rapists, the scum of the earth, the rats in the gutters. It makes it easier to believe that they are getting their due. But what of those that were not convicted of a crime? Those that were CHARGED but not convicted?
In 1995 there was an Iowa statute that stated a person "charge" with a crime that included a minor had to register as a sex offender. I know this because it happened to me. I was married to a girl that was not quite 18 at the time, she was pregnant, and I was charged with a crime. I have no conviction on my record. I was told that I had tp registered in Iowa for 10 years because if I did not then I would be guilty of other crimes. Amazing.
We were married for almost 5 years. A good time in my life to raise a child. My son had his 10th birthday this year. I feel so discouraged to associate his age with this. I raised him as best I could. I spoiled him like any good father would. My son.
I know most people would rather see all sex offenders as rapists. It is so much easier to hate people when you label them. Ugly words for ugly people, right? I do not feel ugly.
I just want to live my life.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are several big problems with residency restrictions.

#1. Everyone erroneously thinks that all sex offenders have violated children. That is not true, I in fact, am a registered sex offender. Not because I have ever had a desire to have sex with children, but simply because I was indescriminent in downloading pornography from the internet. I downloaded 100,000's of images from the internet, and in the process, downloaded some child pornography. Not because I wanted to see children being violated, simply because I was out of control downloading pornography. I am obsessive compulsive, and now on medication to control that. But for my problems, I am a registered sex offender. And I have never touched a child inappropriately.
#2. Some child molestors are allowed to plead to simple assualt, rather than sexual assault. Thus avoiding sex offender registry, even though they have had sex with children. These molesters are often untreated and will also be unaffected by this legislation.
#3. Only about 7% of all sex offenses towards children are done by 'annonymous' or 'strangers'. Most sex offenses are actually committed by family members, or someone the child already trusts, such as a teacher, parish member, or friend of the family. Let me reiterate on this, residency restrictions will not have any impact on the 93% of the cases where the child is molested by someone they trust. You want to enact residency restrictions to prevent the 7%? Just what do you think that will really accomplish?
#4. Many people who offend children are themselves victims of sex offenses, or as in my case, mental illness. Would it not make more sense to just treat these people? Why throw them away because they had a very traumatic childhood? Isn't that further punishing those people for problems that caused them to act the way they did?
#5. In my case, I have spent 7 years in therapy to deal with my pornography problems and obsessive compulsive problems. I have reestablished myself in my family and the community. I have become a productive member of society again. Now residency laws may come along and kick me out of my home and my environment.


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