In a Handbasket
Not only was Mr. Thompson convicted for a crime that he did not commit, not only did Mr. Thompson have to serve 18 years of someone else's time, but now SCOTUS-by-and-through Justice Thomas has denied Mr. Thompson the most pitiful of recompense, given the gravity of his situation. The money shouldn't be about punishing the prosecutors. Indeed, the money would not come from the pockets of those who conspired to condemn an innocent man, those who cut corners to win electable conviction rates, those who suppressed exculpatory evidence in a win-at-all-costs version of justice, but would rather, ironically, be sucked out of the community that they were sworn to protect. That's neither here nor there, though.
The purpose of the money should be to give Mr. Thompson some small, inadequate measure of making him whole -- to right the wrong that was so clearly done to him. There is no amount of something so crass as money that will afford Mr. Thompson a repayment of those 18 years he spent locked in a cage -- but it is, quite simply, the best that we can offer. That the Supreme Court failed to recognize that shows only that our highest court is so far out of touch with humanity as to imperil their credibility as an institution.
The Washington Post
March 9, 2011
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other Cabinet-level officials voted unanimously Wednesday to roll back state rules enacted four years ago that made it easier for many ex-felons to regain the right to vote.
Now, under the new rules, even nonviolent offenders would have to wait five years after the conclusion of their sentences to apply for the chance to have their civil rights restored.
The vote carries national political implications. Many GOP leaders never forgave then-Gov. Charlie Crist for his move to make civil rights restoration almost automatic for most ex-felons.
The 2007 rule change spurred more than 100,000 ex-felons to earn the ability to register to vote ahead of the 2008 election in which then-candidate Barack Obama swept Florida. Experts say many of those new voters were likely Democratic-leaning African Americans.
I'd really love for someone to tell me what the justification for disenfranchisement is, other than pure voter suppression. I noticed in the article that they pay lip service to the idea of preventing voter fraud, but if you one has to wonder if even they believe their own swill or if they actually know they're full of it.
The New York Times
March 7, 2011
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a setback to hopes for a quick closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Obama administration on Monday lifted a stay on filing new charges in military tribunals there and set up a process for continuing to hold detainees who have not been charged.
President Barack Obama said he ordered the Defense Department to lift an order that had suspended the filing of new charges in the military tribunals at the camp. Obama had suspended such charges when he announced his review of the detainee policy in early 2009, shortly after he took office.
The White House said that review was now complete.
Obama also issued an executive order on Monday establishing a process to continue to hold some Guantanamo detainees who have been neither charged, convicted nor designated for transfer but who are deemed to pose a threat to security.
However, the White House said Obama remained committed to eventually closing the prison at Guantanamo, at some point.
Committed to closing Guantanamo. Eventually. At some point.
New York Times
November 8th, 2008
MIAMI — Public defenders’ offices in at least seven states are refusing to take on new cases or have sued to limit them, citing overwhelming workloads that they say undermine the constitutional right to counsel for the poor.
Public defenders are notoriously overworked, and their turnover is high and their pay low. But now, in the most open revolt by public defenders in memory, many of the government-appointed lawyers say that state budget cuts and rising caseloads have pushed them to the breaking point.
In September, a Florida judge ruled that the public defenders’ office in Miami-Dade County could refuse to represent many of those arrested on lesser felony charges so its lawyers could provide a better defense for other clients. Over the last three years, the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer in a year has climbed to close to 500, from 367, officials said, and caseloads for lawyers assigned to misdemeanor cases have risen to 2,225, from 1,380.
“Right now a lot of public defenders are starting to stand up and say, ‘No more: We can’t ethically handle this many cases,’ ” said David J. Carroll, director of research for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.
More after the jump.
X-posted to Justice
by a sixteen year old kid whose father probably did the same thing to him. It's not something that I normally toss about, but I was inspired by this recent thread as well as the 5-4 SCOTUS decision ruling that execution for child rape is unconstitutional. Primarily, though, I figured that if others could be brave enough to put it on the table, then I should too.
Of course, I am a male, and so it makes the emotional consequences a little bit different for me than if I were a woman (at least, near as I can tell). In some ways I think that it is easier to deal with if you are a man who has been raped as opposed to a woman who has been raped, and in some ways I think that it is harder.
As you can probably infer from the first sentence of this post, I have let go of a lot of my hate and anger. I wouldn't always think of him as the "sixteen year old kid whose father probably did the same thing to him". Words that have been bandied about here are familiar to me; monster, animal, sub-human, et cetera. Eventually, though, I realized that my hate, my anger, and my resentment did not do him any injury. In a moment of profound insight (or at least that's what I would call it - gives you an idea of how low my bar is set) I wrote a couple of months ago that hatred does not injure it's subject, only the owner. If you ask me, that is actually one of the worst consequences of having been raped - the hatred that it inspired in me.
Again, it took me a while to get there. I'm not saying that I'm somehow better than victims who are angry, either. I don't begrudge them their feelings, as I had them for a long time. People deal with this sort of thing in different ways. For all I know, that anger can be healthy for some people.
Switching gears, I find myself caught in the middle. While you can say that I have an affinity for rape victims because I was one, you can also say that I have an affinity for perverts and sex addicts, because I'm one of those as well. I will say at the outset that I have never harmed anyone like that. I have never taken what was done to me and passed that on to others, though I will also say that had their not been any sort of intervention in my life, who knows what another ten or twenty years would of brought? It terrifies me to think about that possibility. For the record, I do not blame that sixteen year old kid for my problems. I can see how that act contributed to a lot of where I am right now, but the onus was always mine to be honest with myself and recognize when I needed some help. I failed in that, but thankfully due to the courage and the honesty of a woman that I love, I was able to get that help.
I say all that to say this: in my time in recovery for my various addictions and problems, I've met a couple people who many here would consider to be "monsters". People I would of, at one time, considered to be monsters. In some respect, I wish I could say that they are monsters, as that would make things a lot simpler. As another poster put it, sometimes we use these people to keep hard lines between good and evil. We like to think that these are "monsters" that do these sorts of things because we don't like to think that anyone is capable of committing these kinds of atrocious acts, not the least of whom ourselves. To that end, I have noticed that attempts in the press to try to humanize these "monsters" is usually met with rampant hostility. Hopefully I'm not going to get flamed too badly.
I met a man that I'm going to call Chuck. One night, several years ago, Chuck fondled his daughter while she was sleeping. Doing this woke her up, and Chuck became scared and horrified with himself. He then went to get his shotgun, gave it to his wife and told her what he did, and on his knees and through the tears, begged her to shoot him. She didn't of course. Instead, Chuck was arrested and sent to prison for a couple of years. Currently, Chuck and his daughter have reconciled and actually have a good relationship (I was surprised, too). He has found work as a mechanic, struggles mightily with depression, and is beginning a dating relationship with another woman.
I met a man that I'll call Daniel. Daniel was in a messy relationship with a woman who had a daughter. Apparently, at the behest of the mother, the daughter went to the police to say that Daniel had abused her. Daniel was consequently arrested and took a plea agreement that resulted in probation. Kind of surprising, until you learn that there was no physical evidence and that he had passed a polygraph. He adamantly denies doing anything at all to this girl. To hear him say it, the DA strong-armed him into taking a plea. They charged him with more than they could possibly proved, and then basically asked if he wanted to take his chances in front a jury with ninety some-odd years riding on the line. Daniel was scared, and accepted the agreement. As a result of the agreement, he was prevented from having contact with his own children. I don't think it is much of a understatement to say that not being able to see, talk to, or write his children for years killed his soul.
I met a man that I'll call Robert. Robert used to be a big-time drug addict. He would have raucous parties at his house, with his wife and children present. One night, after shooting heroin and cocaine into his arm, he molested his children. The exact details aren't too clear, as he says that his memory is pretty blurred of exactly what happened, but he nonetheless admits that he did it. Right now, he is working on dealing with his drug addiction, and hoping to one day be reunited with his kids.
Those are just a couple of the "monsters" that I have met. In my time in recovery, I have met many more. I have met people who have raped women, people who have solicited prostitutes, people who have swapped child pornography online, people who have exposed themselves to unwitting people on the street...all sorts of types. All sorts of "monsters". I'm sure a few of you are wondering why it is that I found myself in this place. Well, I had a big problem with affairs and pornography. I'm a sex addict, of course I'm just one type of sex addict. There's more than one road to Rome, as they say.
Monstrous deeds, not monstrous people. I think that is a pretty succinct way of putting how I feel about it. I think that most of us probably have some sort of thing that we have done in the past that, if a spotlight were shone on it, people probably wouldn't think too highly of us. I know I have a least a few.
Suffice it to say, that I have not met any monsters. I've met people. I've met people with problems, people with a head full of junk, people who are hobbled by addictions and insecurities, people who have done terrible things. They don't look much different than you or I, though. They look like your mailman, or your pastor, or your kid's teacher, or your hairdresser. As scary as the deeds that they have committed are, I think that the far scarier thing is the understanding that monsters do not do these sorts of things - people do.
As I mentioned before, all of this is not to condone what they have done. The Christian adage of "Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner" comes to mind. I guess maybe I'm in a unique position because I can see it from both sides of the coin because of my experiences. Some of you will want to disagree with me, and that's fine. Some of you will want to hold on to your hate and your anger, and that's fine too - I'm not judging.
I'm just adding my .02.
I've written about this sort of thing previously, but some of the things that I've read recently made me think that it might be useful to open another discussion on this sort of topic.
I've been coming to R/T for a while, and I don't post unless I think I have something worthwhile to say, which translates to me spending most of my time lurking around here. There is, however, one thing that I'd like to address, and that is the use of the terms fundamentalist or evangelical atheism.
To begin, here are a couple of observations:
The terms are almost exclusively used by theists.
The terms are almost exclusively used in a context of expressing distaste.
Now, being that this is a liberal message board, it's perhaps not a shocker that most of us have a dislike of fundamentalists and evangelicals, as (among other things) they tend to be extremely conservative in their politics.
I'm sure that most of that seems readily apparent to you, but I wanted to flesh it all out in order to make the case that using those terms is more of an ad hominem attack or inflammatory bomb-throwing than anything else.
Perhaps some people who use these terms don't mean them as an attack, but rather mean to engage in honest communication. However, when you use those terms you're pretty much screwing the pooch in terms of dialoge with someone else as you're essentially calling them names at the outset. Sometimes, people use these terms even over the objection of atheists, as for one there is the implication that atheism is a religion - which it is not.
It seems to me that there are better ways to describe certain behaviors instead of using the monikers of evangelical or fundamentalist. Strident, assertive, stubborn, or even assholery are just a few terms that come to mind that don't carry near the same amount of baggage that the aforementioned terms do.
Some of you might be tempted to think "But atheism really is a religion!" Of course, calling atheism a religion is really just a dressed-down version of the evangelical / fundamentalist attack. That, however, is another post entirely.
I understand that there is a lot of emotional baggage attached to this debate, and that for many people their religion is a part of their identity. That being said, I can see why when people attack their religion, some will feel that they personally are being attacked. In my view, it is quite legitimate to assert flaws with a system of thought without projecting those same flaws onto people who think differently.
At least, that's my .02.
This is a truly amazing story and an admirable work of journalism. It is a rather lengthy five-part series, but it is well worth the read. What follows is a link to the portal for the series, as well as excerpts from each of the five parts complete with links to them.
Beyond Rape - A Survivor's Journey
Telling the story I tried to forget
I was running late. Again.
I was speeding down Euclid Avenue, headed east out of downtown for a 5 p.m. interview at Case Western Reserve University. It was 5:10.
Rush hour had begun, the daily exodus of workers leaving the city for the suburbs, hurrying through the "bad" areas. You could almost hear the steady beat of car locks clicking at East 55th Street, the percussive soundtrack to Cleveland's racial divide.
I slalomed from the left lane to the right lane and back, scolding myself in my usual manner.
"Why do you always do this?" I muttered. "Why, why, why?"
One search ends, another begins
They caught the rapist on July 10, 1984, at 5 p.m. on the Case Western Reserve University campus.
Larry Donovan, a University Circle police investigator, was on undercover surveillance in the quad for just 38 minutes when a man fitting the description I gave police strolled past Eldred Hall.
To Donovan's amazement, DAVE returned to the scene of the crime the very next day, at the same time, wearing the same clothes -- shiny black tank top, dark shirt, dark trousers. They found the gold cross on a chain -- the one that had dangled over my face as he raped me -- in his pocket, along with a screwdriver, a pack of Kools and a copy of Black Cherry, a porn magazine. His zipper was down.
University Circle police turned him over to the Cleveland police, and that night we got the call: They had arrested a suspect. His name was David Francis. He was 27 years old. Could I come in to view a lineup?
The privileged and the cursed
David Francis planned to return to Cleveland. After serving time for raping me, he intended to live in a house on East 82nd Street owned by Lula Mae Foster.
That's what he told prison officials, anyway. In one parole application, he called Foster his aunt. In another, she was his grandmother.
Foster still lives on East 82nd, in the Hough neighborhood, one of Cleveland's most distressed. In the summer of 2007, I went to see her.
It takes 10 minutes to drive to Hough from Shaker Heights, where I live. But not many people make that trip. It leads across the border of what former presidential candidate John Edwards called the Two Americas: on one side, a leafy, prosperous suburb; on the other, a city that the U.S. Census Bureau designated the poorest big city in America in both 2004 and 2006.
Partners in crime, allies in courage
David Francis was not always David Francis. He changed his identity with nearly every arrest.
When he was arrested for receiving stolen property, he was Dalin Allen.
When he was arrested for aggravated burglary, robbery and carrying a concealed weapon, he was Daniel Allen.
When he was arrested for breaking and entering, he was Tony Wayne.
Talking to the dead, taking back my life
David Francis ended his time on Earth as he lived it: in prison.
He was laid to rest in a cemetery that overlooks Pickaway Correctional Institution, on a bare hill with a view of the razor wire that curls like a giant Slinky around the prison.
I went there to visit him on Jan. 16, 2008.
The day was clear but cold. The razor wire glinted in the sun and the grass crunched under our feet as Mohammad Yakuba, the prison investigator, led me up the hill.
Compassion Forum? Oh, FSM!
I've lived in America most of my life, so this sort of blending of morality and theology is nothing new to me. In my newspaper, I get a section entitled "Faith & Values", the implication being that they are sort of one in the same - or at least similiar. They are neither. John Stuart Mill, writing about his father, explained that one of the problems with religion is that it allows for genuine moral character and caliber to be exchanged for piety and ceremony. As an outsider to the whole religious fervor in the States, I'd have to say that he is spot on. Time and time again, it is explained to me through the teevee, or the internet, or amongst the people in my town how people who don't think exactly like them are not moral people. The hubris and the arrogance of this, of course, is the implication that they are good people on the basis of nothing more than what they think the status is of the veracity of a collection of works written and re-written over the last 2 millenia. Or not even the veracity! Sometimes it can come down to one's particular parochial brand of interpretation (The old SoBap joke comes to mind).
Theirs is a small god. Theirs is a god that bears their own prejudices, their own hatreds, their own fears. As George Bernard Shaw once wrote, no man believes the bible says what it means but rather that it means what he says.
I for one, am sick of it. I am sick of hearing, time and time again, that I am not moral unless I profess adoration to this small god of theirs. When I refuse, or when I have the temerity to point out that maybe, just maybe, if there is a god and if we really are all god's children, then maybe we should spend less time hating our brothers and sisters then I am blasted as a bigot, as a heretic, as...you guessed it...immoral.
So I'm sorry if this seems a little undeserved, but it does rake at my sense of fairness. I'm tired of morality being subsumed under the banner of religion, especially when religion can be implicated in some of the worst atrocities in human history. That's not necessarily a dig at religion, but when I look around I don't tend to see religious people being the best among us. I see people being people, some good, and some bad. On the whole, there seems to be very little correlation between how good one is and how often one attends church, or to what brand of church.
That's my .02.
I don't know how to start this post. I've been sitting here now for a few minutes, in my recliner, smoking a cigarette, trying to figure out the words. The subject line came to me instantly (it is from a famous Dylan Thomas poem), and the emotions are all here...anger...regret...sadness...the kind where you can feel the tears lapping behind your eyes as if at any moment the dam might burst.
I guess all I really know how to say is just that suicide, any suicide, makes me ill.
It's not that I hate the people that do it. I feel anger towards them, but that passes. The anger is mostly directed at the situations that they find themselves in, the situations that trick them and make them believe the terrible falsity that there is only one way out. The situations that take all that is unique, special and beautiful about that person and corrupts it. The broken homes, the needles and the pills, the divorces and the deaths, the sin and the suffering.
I still think of my Uncle Mike from time to time. I have a rug of his in my apartment, a beautiful antique persian that was one of his favorites. I look at it, and I think of him. I think of the last time I saw him, just outside Toronto. He was in rehab for painkillers, and I remember sitting with him by the pool of his brother's house, smoking cigarettes, joking, and watching the sun set over the Canadian wilderness. I still think of the day we got the news, too. He had just come home from Canada. He saw his wife off to work, and his grand daughter off to school (her father, Scott, was killed in a car accident and her mother was and still is incarcerated). Then he wrote a note that read "Call 911. Do not come inside.", and tacked it to garage door. I guess I don't need to explain the rest.
I remember how my father took it. Mike was my father's kid brother, and my father had always stood up for him, always protected him, always loved him, and never abandoned him. But he couldn't protect him, this time. He couldn't save him. Not that it was his job to, but that's how he took it.
I still think of November of 06, when I decided to take my own life. Seatbelt off, guardrail breaking, the water would come in through the windows, I could take a deep breath, and it would be over. Of course I wasn't thinking about my family or my friends - the people that loved me and didn't want me to go. The situation I was in took all that was good about me and corrupted it, made me confused, made me believe the lie. I owe my life to an addict who, through luck or providence or whatever you want to call it, happened to talk to me that morning. Happened to save my life.
But I digress. I'm just so full of emotion right now. By all accounts, Josh was a good guy. I didn't know him well, but we had mutual friends.
He shot himself yesterday.
I don't really know what one is supposed to do with that. I want to go talk to someone, but no one is answering their phones. I imagine they're all still trying to deal, too.
My experience over the past year and a half or so has taught me that the best way to deal with suffering is to allow it in. To give yourself permission to feel it, and to try to relax with it. To not say that the feeling is good or bad, but just that it is.
So here I will sit. On this rug with my recliner and my cigarettes. In the process of writing this, the dam has mercifully burst and so I will just try to relax with this awful feeling. Thank you for allowing me to grieve here.
I'm sorry, Josh.
I see a lot of crap being slung back and forth here on DU. That is, perhaps, nothing new. An internet message board is going to have your fair share of disagreements, people in a bad mood, and trolls. Though what has struck me recently is the sheer level of acrimony with which some of these arguments have been proceeding. Hillary will eat your children, and if you support her you are for baby-killing. Obama hates gay people, and if you support him then you are one step shy of going out and beating a random gay man on the street. Edwards has a big house and secretly wants to employ the poor as his servants. On and on and on and on.
I was listening to an interview of Thomas Cahill on Bill Moyers on my iPod this week. Thomas Cahill is a historian who, in his newest book, takes up the subject of the death penalty. It was an excellent interview, but without going too far off point, one thing in the interview really struck me: Cahill said that we hate those the most that are similar to us, but just a little bit different. DU clicked into my head instantaneously. That statement applies to a good deal of other situations as well, and perhaps the fact that I first thought of DU is indicative that I've been spending way too much time on here.
Nonetheless, I see that happening here. We all generally want the same things, and we all have the same general political leanings - so we are all very similar in many important respects. We are all, also, a little bit different. At no time has that been any more clear to me then during this campaign season. Most of us have picked our candidate, because our candidate is (apparently) the only one who can save America and anything different would be a catastrophe. Those who cannot see that are either (a) dumb or (b) are actively working towards the destruction of America.
I would not say the word "hate" is too strong a word to describe some of the things that I have read here.
I have my personal favorite in the race, sure. I'm not going to say who, lest I be accused to deleting all the messages supportive of my candidate's opponent(s). I will say, though, that even though I believe in my candidate, it is not the end of the world if they don't get the nod. I think all the Democratic contenders are genuine and want to work to improve the state of things here in America. Keeping that it mind, it's kind of hard to hate someone who disagrees on such a minor point as what candidate to support. In my view, there's really only one thing that matters: that you vote Democratic. After all, that's why I'm here at DU - I support the Democratic party.
This has been my lame attempt at keeping the peace. We will now return you to your regularly scheduled flame-fest.
Research shed light on eye development
Kansas City Star
WASHINGTON | Scientists have traced the origin of eyes back to a transparent blob of living jelly floating in the sea about 600 million years ago.
That creature, the distant ancestor of a modern freshwater animal known as a hydra, could only distinguish light from dark.
But that simple trick was such an advantage that it was passed on from generation to generation of the hydra’s cousins and their myriad descendants. It was the precursor of the wildly different, ever more complex eyes of fish, ants, flies, giraffes and people.
The discovery also helps to counter one of the principal arguments used by anti-evolutionists to discredit Charles Darwin’s theory and to support their belief in “intelligent design.”
X-Posted to R/T
I was speaking with my father tonight. My father is a very wise man, who I don't get to speak to nearly as often as I could and who I haven't listened to nearly as often as I should. I cannot remember how we got on the subject, but he was telling me about when he used to live in Boston. He was telling me about how, on one early morning, he went out for a jog. During his run, he encountered two men who attempted to mug him. One grabbed his arm, and my father shoved him to the ground while the other tried to sweep my father's legs. My father dodged him and began to punch this man in the face as hard as he could, over and over. Through the blood and the broken teeth, this man started to scream "Stick it in him! Stick it in him!" Terrified, my father thrust his thumbs into this man's eye sockets, causing him to collapse to the ground in agony. My father ran as fast as he could. Tonight, my father told me that he still remembers how his eyes felt, and that he still regrets feeling like he had to do that.
A couple of days ago, I was serving lunch at a homeless shelter. I don't bring that up to offer proof of my goodness as a person - as I have also done some terrible things in my life (things which I will not share here, by the way). My task was not hard: place a piece of blueberry cornbread onto the tray and pass it down the line. Being that it was not hard, I got a chance to interact with some of the people coming through the line. Some were young, and some were old. Some had obviously served in wars, and some could not speak English. Some thanked me with a warm smile, and some never looked at me. But I saw something I had never seen before. I saw little pieces of me in them. Some people bore with them the scars of addition's profanity, as do I. Reflecting on my checking account balance, I realized I had little more money than they. Some people sat down and laughed with others while they ate, whereas some others sought solitude. Some ate quickly, and some slowly. I too, have done all these things.
I am used to thinking in terms of us and they, as we all are. Us, on this side of the lunch-line, are volunteers and they, on that side of the line are the hungry homeless. We, on this side of the ocean, are Americans and they, on that side, are Iraqis. We, on this side of the wall are guards and they, on that side, are inmates. We, on this side of the law, are citizens and they, on that side, are muggers. Us and they. We and them.
I don't think those distinctions are so clear cut, anymore. I think a better description is to say that we are them and they are us. The mugger that my father blinded and my father probably had a lot more that was similar about them than was different. The insurgent that is shooting at that American soldier could probably, in other circumstances, relate to him in many different ways. The fighter pilot dropping bombs on that terrorist training camp probably possesses many of the same traits of the people that he is killing.
Violence is a failure. On a large-scale level, it is a failure of civilizations, of diplomacy. On a miniature scale, where people are blinded, it is a failure of our basic humanity to recognize the similarities we all share. We fail to see that we are really blinding ourselves. We fail to see that we are destroying our own nations, our own cities, and our own homes.
I can understand why it is easier to emphasize our differences as opposed to our similarities. If they are inhuman, then it is easy to lose our humanity with them. Violence, then, becomes merely a means to an end. Another suicide bomber. Another nameless civilian killed. Another soldier laid to rest. Somehow, through some pathology, some defect in our wiring, they cease to be people. They cease to be us.
Violence may be necessary and a fact of life. Had my father not blinded that mugger, I might not be here. When the Japanese bombed us during World War II, they left us little option but to war with them. When we were attacked on September 11, we had attack who was responsible (ostensibly, that was Afghanistan). When a friend of mine was forced to defend his family, he had little choice but to kill his attacker.
But violence is still a failure. It should not be what leads the news: it should be our collective shame. That we could not muster the basic skill to negotiate, the basic humanity to not attack someone else, is to me a tragedy. Remember that it may be necessary, but I will never cheer for it and will never become it's advocate. I mourn it.
October 12th, 2007
Sex offender laws may be doing more harm than good. That is the conclusion Human Rights Watch came to after two years of intensive research into sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws in the United States. Our research convinced us that politicians failed to do their homework by enacting popular laws without seeking expert advice on how best to prevent sexual violence.
Instead of an informed debate about how sexual violence ravages this country, politicians and the media have largely focused on child victims of truly horrific crimes by previously convicted sex offenders -- like the murders of Megan Kanka, Polly Klaas, and Jessica Lunsford. Horrific yes, but uncommon, which means the laws are designed to tackle only a tiny minority and fail to address the full picture of sexual violence.
A growing number of child safety and rape prevention advocates agree that current laws are not working. For example, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), a state-wide coalition of 84 rape crisis centers and sexual assault prevention programs, had this to say about residency restriction laws: They "waste valuable resources on sex offenders who are unlikely to reoffend, while leaving a deficit of treatment, supervision, and focus on offenders who we know should be receiving more intense scrutiny."
Two popular myths about child abusers underlie many of our sex offender laws: first, that our children have most to fear from strangers, and second, that sex offenders will inevitably repeat their crimes. But the data tell a different story. More than 90 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts. And recidivism rates for sex offenders are far lower than most people believe -- authoritative studies show that three out of four do not re-offend within 15 years of release from prison.
Much more at the link.
I guess that you could say that I am a little disheartened as of late with respect to some of the things that I have read here on the Democratic Underground. I know that we are a fairly disparate group of people in that we differ from one another (sometimes markedly so) in our opinions. Sometimes it seems we can find little common ground, especially if you venture into the topic forums.
I think what I am about to say, however, is probably uncontroversial: there are such things as fundamental human rights. In other words, by the very virtue of simply being a person we have certain, inalienable rights. It doesn't really matter where you think those rights come from, be it God or society, but simply that we have them. I say that is probably uncontroversial as it is one of the founding principles of the United States.
What that means, then, is that we should be afforded certain protections, enforceable by the state, that are non-negotiable. We have the right to be free in our thought and our speech. We have the right to basic human dignity. I could go on for a while, but suffice it to say that these fundamental human rights are the foundation for both our country and our criminal justice system (in that those who choose to violate the rights of others are punished accordingly).
Now, what I am about to say will probably be unpopular. I will preface it by saying that I am not a perfect person. I have lied. I have hurt and used people. I have made many mistakes and, I suspect, will make many, many more before I go into the ground. I do not claim to be any more moral than anyone else here.
But what I am disheartened by is seeing usually reasonable people proposing rather unreasonable and barbaric courses of action being taken against certain individuals whom you might call the worst among us. People who violate our sense of right and wrong, our sense of decency, our values in some of the most horrific ways imaginable. People who harm the innocent and the helpless. People that harm our children. The murders. The rapists. The molesters. The people who, through their acts, take all that is good and corrupt it. The people who, as a result of their crimes, strip us of our collective innocence and force us into a reality that is uncomfortable for us all. A reality where the bad guy can win. A reality where the good guy, though the cause is just, suffers. A reality that makes us yearn for justice and a sense of fairness.
I'm talking about the John Coueys of the world. The Jeffrey Dahmers. The Charles Mansons. The Osama bin Ladens. Their crimes should outrage us, should make us ill, should make us cry, for I mourn the passing of our society when they do no longer.
They are, however, human beings - and nothing can change that. Not the ruthlessness of their method, nor the remorselessness of their psyche. As I said before, human beings are entitled to certain non-negotiable rights. Rights that should be extended to the Coueys, the Dahmers, the Mansons, and the bin Ladens. Notice here, however, that you can simultaneously do this while affirming that their acts deserve a swift and unequivocal response. I am not a Christian, but the phrase "hate the sin, love the sinner" comes to mind.
I understand our desire for retribution, to visit onto the offender the suffering that they have wrought - for it's own sake. I understand our desire for revenge. But we should not allow retribution to become the sole reason for punishment, we should not allow our desire for revenge to obscure our reason - for I will likewise mourn the passing of our society when they do.
As a closing thought, I forget the source but I recall the parable of slaying monsters. When we slay our own collective monsters, we should take care not to become monsters ourselves.
I take a stand on the principle of fundamental human rights, and do so because I believe if one among us has lost them, then they are no longer fundamental, no longer non-negotiable. Either we all have fundamental human rights, or none of us do.
Thank you for reading.
This thread was inspired by another thread on the subject, which can be found here.
As it is undoubtedly clear, there are some here who believe that sex offenders (or to be more specific, offenders who commit crimes against children) should be either sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or the death penalty (I'm guessing depending upon the specifics of the crime committed). This argument either (a) rests upon a number of mistaken assumptions which I will address or (b) is pure retribution dressed up in an argument resting upon a number of mistaken assumptions. A much better approach would be to take cases on an individual basis and avoid casting wide nets with laws such as this. It is my contention that such an approach would not only avoid undue incapacitation or specific deterrence, but if it were applied to other areas of the law as well (such as sex offender registration laws) would actually make society safer than it currently is.
To begin with, it seems appropriate to set out some definitions given that the terms like sex offender, child molester, and sex crime are all incredibly vague. When most people thing of a child molesting sex offender, the worst typically comes to mind. Indeed, this category does include individuals such as John Couey, who abducted, raped, and murder Jessica Lunsford. However it is also important to note that it also contains people such as William Elliott who, had sex with his 17 year old girlfriend while he was (I believe) 19. So it is important to keep in mind that these legalistic definitions run the gamut - encompassing all kinds of different people who have done all sorts of different things. Plus, if you broaden it to mean "sex offense against a child" - as the linked thread does, then you have anything from public urination to rape and murder. Applying a one-size-fits-all law to all child sex offenders makes little sense.
According to the Center for Sex Offender Management, an adjunct of the Department of Justice, recidivism rates for sex offenders are relatively low (around 11-15% over a five year follow-up) - especially when compared with other classes of criminals. The recidivism for many groups of offenders drops further once you look at them individually. For instance, the majority of sex offenses against a child are committed by someone that the child knows and trust (roughly 90%). The majority of those offenses (that is, excluding perpetrators who are unknown to the victim) are committed by family members. Intra-familial offenders are typically on the lower end of the risk scale for reoffense. They tend to be what is known as "situational" offenders in that they are not typically predators.
One-size-fits all laws such as this can do much more harm than good. Hypothetically, say that the law is altered to give mandatory offenders life sentences. That means everyone from William Elliott to John Couey goes away for life (or gets the death penalty). Also, given that the majority of these crimes are committed by family members it would also place additional burdens on that family. Moreover, stricter laws might discourage the reporting of ongoing abuse (for example, if a wife knows that her husband has abused their daughter, but doesn't want him to get the death penalty) which lessens the probability that the offender will seek some kind of treatment.
And finally, laws like these (including laws concerning sex offender registration) provide camouflage for people who truly are predators and need to simply be incapacitated. These laws are geared towards such individuals, but they represent a very small percentage of the whole. Another hypothetical: suppose that a predator is released into a community and, in accord with law, registers as a sex offender with police. Suppose further that there are (including this individual) 100 people on the local registry. It then falls to the police and public to be aware of these 100 people, but what if only this individual is an actual threat? While the percentage might be a bit off, it's not much of a stretch. In addition, Sheriff departments around the country are reporting that more offenders than ever are absconding from the registry due to increasing restrictions (read: no one knows where they are) and it is also not much of a stretch to believe that offenders would be more likely to murder their victims to avoid either life imprisonment or the death penalty themselves.
In closing, creating one-size-fits all laws for a very heterogeneous group makes little since from both a criminal justice and a public safety perspective. Cases should be handled on a case by case basis, where an individual is evaluated to determine his level of risk to the public and treated accordingly.
This is not to say that strangers do not commit sex crimes or that former offenders do not commit new sex crimes. It does happen. What it does mean, however, is that our collective focus is woefully misplaced. That is understandable, since these crimes arouse a great deal of emotion in people (and they should). What I fear, however, is that we are allowing our desire for retribution overshadow the sense of fairness that is the bedrock of American jurisprudence. In many cases, deterrence, affirming of social norms, and retribution are all appropriate in the criminal justice system. However, it is also my contention that laws such as this seek to make retribution the primary justification of criminal justice. If that is the case, it would certainly be less disingenuous if they just came out and said it as opposed to pushing for ever increasing punishment under the guise of protecting the children.
Edited for spelling.
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