June 7, 2005

I Know, I'm A Left-Wing Nut

You probably know, I'm a bleeding heart liberal. If you had doubts, well, this should quell them. But I've been annoyed by some things lately.

You're Free...No You're Not
I was cooking dinner last night and I flipped on the news. Yes, that's always a bad idea. The first story I saw concerned me a little. It detailed the offerings of a new company who had fused mobile notification technology and sex offender databases in order to send alerts to concerned parents about sex offenders' movements in their area. I realize this is merely a case of capitalism run amok, one of the inevitabilities of Megan's Law, signed in 1996. And, while I assure you I'm very sensitive to the desire to protect loved ones from all the dangers out there in the world, this bothered me for some reason. In the U.S., we operate under the assumptions and beliefs (correct or not) that, when someone's broken the law, they pay a price for it. And when that price is paid, its over. Hopefully they've learned their lessons, been rehabilitated or just scared enough by what they've been through that they wouldn't contemplate repeating their crime. The one exception to this line of thinking, however, is the sex offender.

Statistics show that sex offenders are likely to re-offend. What isn't always made clear is that recidivism rates for crimes involving narcotics and simple robbery are almost as high. Yet, in what we claim is a fair, binary system - one of guilty and not guilty - we're holding different people to different standards. By registering and tracking, we're subjecting these people to a special form of harassment. I realize I'm comparing apples to oranges but you don't release a bank robber and require him to register with all the local banks or require that all gasoline and lighter purchases from serial arsonists be tracked.

I guess what I'm saying is this - if we can make so strong a case that sex offenders will so often re-offend to the point at which they're monitored constantly and unable to lead normal lives after they've served their time, isn't that indicative of the fact that the punishment never fit the crime? That the consequences of their offences aren't proportionate to the crimes they committed? That two years of jail time isn't quite enough for a rapist?

No Exceptions
Yesterday, the black-robed legal superheroes known as the Supreme Court reasserted that the Federal laws governing the use of marijuana trumped those at the state level. So, I got to hear some nut claim that medical marijuana is single-handedly responsible for the 180,000 kids in drug rehab across the United States. Look, I don't like drugs. I don't even drink anymore. But come on! Congress passes laws that effect 300 million people. Will there be exceptions to each and every one of them? You betcha. What I'd like to know from the Federal government - who are you to deny a cancer patient the one thing that makes life a little more bearable, that eases a bit of the pain? Who are you to tell AIDS patients they should die just a little bit earlier because their appetites are gone and the only thing that helps is illegal?

Cold Dead Hands
When I was 18, I learned how to handle a gun. There was some scary shit going on in my life and I received the finest training from former FBI agents, Navy Seals and Special Forces guys. Would I own a gun now? Nope. Should you? Well, that's really your call. The second amendment says you can so knock yourself out. But, don't be an asshole about it, okay?

In this post-911 culture, it seems we've gotten even more belligerent than we already were. And we're more than happy to flaunt it. I don't live in Hicksville, USA yet I'm constantly bombarded with oddly shaped bumper stickers that say "Terrorist Hunting Permit" or those that depict the Founding Fathers captioned by "The Original Right-Wing Extremists." Its natural that we want a certain amount of retribution. Its even natural that we want to solve problems through violence. But rarely do violence and retribution end with anything positive.

Posted by Chris at June 7, 2005 8:04 AM

i'm often accused of being a bleeding heart liberal and i always nod and say, 'damn straight. ain't no shame in it.' however, in regards to your first point: i'm all for tracking sex offenders, especially those who prey on children. i realize that's not PC and that it is a double standard but when you have to hear about the things kids face every single damn day, you lose a little of the impartiality.
we just dealt with a case where a youth, who's spent the last 7 years in a treatment facility was released (aged out). it wasn't until last year that he conceded that girls under the age of 8 aren't appropriate sexual partners. we all did what we could to make sure he didn't go back home to where one of his victims lived but since he's no longer in the system there's no way to ensure that, short of taking the girl and placing her in foster care. in short, punishing her for the abuse. it's disturbing and maddening and depressing and damn it, i know it's wrong, but if it can be at all prevented then yeah, track the fuckers.

ok. i'm done now.

i'm with you on the other two points though. does that count for anything??

Posted by: pea at June 7, 2005 8:42 AM

I'm not for AIDS or cancer patients getting medical marijuana to smoke - immunosuppressed patients are very vulnerable to a type of fungus that can make a big deadly fungus ball in the lungs, and smoking pot greatly increases this risk. Believe me, it's nasty and I've seen it happen. What isn't said in all this hullabaloo is that the active ingredient in marijuana is available in pill form (marinol, THC) and is FREQUENTLY prescribed (legally) to cancer and AIDS patients in various states, including Texas and Florida. So.

I don't really believe marijuana is that dangerous (CERTAINLY much less dangerous than tobacco and alcohol) unless you are apathetic, prone to psychosis, or immunosuppressed, but let's not make it legal for some bullshit medical reason. Let's make it legal for real reasons of not funding a black market etc.

Posted by: bisous at June 7, 2005 8:55 AM

A lot of people also do not understand the intricacies of the sex offender registry. On the one hand, there are plenty of unregistered sex offenders out there that have taken a plea that kept them off the registry (or have not been caught). How do you track them? You just have to be the best parent you can and use common sense and good judgment. Second, there are many people on the registry who have committed acts that are not worthy of sending you alert (Ie the 18 year old that committed statutory rape with his 16 year old girlfriend, etc). As far as marijuana, I say "smoke up smokey" if your eyes are about to come out of your head because of pain inflicted by a disease.
I agree with you on all points and don't consider myself a bleeding heart liberal! Maybe it is time for me to reexamine?

Posted by: Rbelle at June 7, 2005 8:56 AM

WORD! I struggle with the issue of Megan's Law. The big hole in our penal system is that it's simply a system to lock people up. No counseling, no drug treatment. My friend is a public defender and she's really afraid of her clients being locked up because that's when they go from shoplifting to grand theft auto.

Posted by: verucaamish at June 7, 2005 9:24 AM

What is also not clear is the fact that many sex offenders are repeat offenders who've only been caught once. It's very hard to prove sexual assault with a minor as your only witness. Try and ask a four year old what time or day it was. I agree though that in the blind application of the law some people (like a boyfriend of a girl whos parents got mad) can be unjustly penalized. I think your comparison to drug addicts is kind of lame though - drug addicts shouldnt be jailed either. The difference is, there is effective medical treatment for drug addicts of all stripes, and repeated treatments are usually successful. Whereas no one has found a successful way to cure pedophilia. And Ill take the consequences of being robbed or mugged any day over being raped.

Posted by: That Girl at June 7, 2005 9:32 AM

Here's my issue with the whole medical marijuana thing: aren't Republicans supposed to be all about States' Rights?

Posted by: Dawnie at June 7, 2005 9:44 AM

:-) Damn, I thought you were going to piss me off today. You're right about the sex offender registry. It's wrong. Honestly, I hadn't thought about it much--but it is a blatant stomp on the rights of Americans. I guess that there is so much blatant stomping that goes on, I can only think about a couple at a time--Patriot Act, anyone? Oh and don't get me started on Mary Jane. http://www.norml.org/

Posted by: Ginny at June 7, 2005 10:09 AM

Good insight! Never thought about the root problem of the sex offender registry before, your statements make sense!!

Posted by: ::c:: at June 7, 2005 10:15 AM

You were in the mafia werent you? ;)

Posted by: alfredsmom at June 7, 2005 10:23 AM

Personally, I believe sex offenders should be castrated. That'd solve that problem. Female sex offenders? There has to be a way. And then? lock them up for a long long time - which two years is not. Angry about the lack of punishment? Hell yeah - I was abused as a child, by a 19yr old pregnant girl - and she got to keep her child. Ummm... wtf?? And she got a slap on the wrist and probation.

Marijuana? I believe the medicinal purposes are good - and like every other drug, it can be used illegally - hell Oxycontin is sold on the streets in the right allyways.

Guns? Yeah, I'm getting one. And I hate guns, but I need a form of protection, in the line of work I'm in and if I'm alone.

But then, you know, I'm a bleeding heart liberal too.

Posted by: autumn at June 7, 2005 10:31 AM

I guess the rationale is that a sex offender who re-offends is absolutely going to be inflicting harm on someone else and therefore society needs to protect would-be victims. A drug user who re-offends is most likely only going to hurt himself (although there are circumstances where others could be hurt.) But I see your point and agree that it seems unfair.

I think it boils down to the fact that our legal system is walking a fine line between punishment for offenders and protecting the interests of victims and would-be victims. No easy answers there.

Posted by: donna at June 7, 2005 10:32 AM

My take on these issues:

1. The elements of a sexual offense (epecially pedophilia) are such that it is nearly impossible for offenders not to rape or molest again-- even if they have the best intentions. I say follow those mofos everywhere they go.

2. Marijuana shmarijuana, who cares, just make it legal so we can all fuggedaboutit.

3. Yeah, you can own a gun. Should you? I think it's a bad idea. Should you be able to own one that shoots a gazillion rounds a second? Not on your life.

Posted by: Sheryl at June 7, 2005 10:45 AM

it's always so nice to know you are not alone. a coworker and i were just talking about these very two things. it's the sex offenders issue that scares me the most. i'm afraid so say anything because i certainly don't want to be perceived as supportive of people that have been convicted of rape and molestation. that said, where do we go from here? what other offenders will we justify tracking next? who else will we try to banish from our neighborhoods, or pay to move to a lower-income area that can't afford to buy off criminals? let's just start another Australia where all society's undesirables can live amongst themselves.

i agree that perhaps the sentencing is what needs looking at. Two years for rape? Please. And unfortunately, I don't believe castration would do anything. For true sex offenders it is psychological, not physical.

Posted by: laura at June 7, 2005 10:54 AM

Two things: sex offenders commonly suffer from psychiatric disorders that predispose them to repeat offenses. That doesn't excuse their crimes, but with all of the attention, money and resources put into tracking these people, it's sad that so little is devoted to providing them with continuous psychiatric treatment and control upon release. Second thing: wait 'till the Bean is born. And imagine her playing outside by herself, with a convicted child molester living down the street.

Posted by: Jason at June 7, 2005 11:00 AM

Oh, you really like a hot topic, don't you?

I think private citizens should be able to shoot sex offenders with automatic weapons and use them for bait to catch whales.

Posted by: Jon in Michigan at June 7, 2005 11:07 AM

And as to medical marijuana: this is a bullshit argument for the legalization of drugs. And I say that as someone who is a complete advocate of legalization of marijuana. The notion that pot is "the only thing" that stimulates appetite and reduces pain is absurd; there are dozens of legal narcotics that accomplish the same thing. It's an easily countered argument that NORML and other groups who are (correctly!) calling for our ridiculous drug laws to be revised should drop. Our culture has been brainwashed by the same neo-Puritans who were more concerned that kids saw Janet Jackson's right tit then they are about kids having their parents come home from Iraq in bodybags. These people don't seem to grasp the concept that we've been down this road before, and eventually did the right thing the last time, during our first War on Drugs - a solution that brought an end to massive gang violence, overcrowded prisons, enormous amounts of wasted law enforcement money and resources, and an actual increase in tax revenue and better control of the production and distribution of formerly illegal substances. This was the repeal of Prohibition laws.

Posted by: Jason at June 7, 2005 11:22 AM

the best bumper stickers in the world are the ones whose message is peacefully yet doubtlessly expressed. i've searched for mine for a while. they say, "justice, not vengance", "don't assume i share your prejudices", and the ever popular "i don't have to like bush to love america".

i agree about the sex offender exceptions, too. not to mention that the u.s. mass o' people still don't quite grasp the fact that sex offenders tend to be FAMILY, FAMILY FRIENDS, or PEOPLE WITH AUTHORITY OVER CHILDREN. chances are, mister crazy ol' sex offender neighbor from halfway across the country trying to make a new life for himself is NOT going to drive around said neighborhood in a big black van with drawn curtains, waving candy out the driver side window. it makes a cute made-for-tv movie...but for the real world, no.

and if the law decrees such databases, why don't we broaden it to include all violent offenders? but what would be considered enough offense for the database? statutory rape? aggravated assault? robbery? or any kind of stealing? because i got caught shoplifting by the police when i was twelve, but it's been twelve years and i'd actually like to keep my job and move into a nice neighborhood.

and it's never too early for politics. =)

Posted by: alanna at June 7, 2005 11:23 AM

1. I'm sure you have also read about the vehicular scarlett letters assigned to some Ohioans...

"COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Some Ohioans convicted of drunken driving can be seen driving vehicles with yellow license plates. If one Ohio lawmaker has his way, sexual predators could soon have to drive vehicles with pink license plates."

2. Here we go again legislating morality and trumping state rights. There will ALWAYS be those citizens who will do as they please, legal or not. Too bad Jimmy Carter couldn't take care of legalization decades ago...

3. "...rarely do violence and retribution end with anything positive." Oh so true, Cactus.

Posted by: Bayou at June 7, 2005 11:59 AM

Illegal drugs should be limited to drugs that have no medical benefit. I mean, why is marijuana illegal? B/c it gets you high? Hello?? Demerol???

Posted by: kalisah at June 7, 2005 12:05 PM

I, like many others, don't consider myself to be a "bleeding heart liberal" but agree with all of your points. Well said/written.

Posted by: sarah at June 7, 2005 12:29 PM

De-lurking to say, awesome post. I'm a bleeding heart liberal, and an attorney, and I was horrified by yesterday's ruling. Luckily, so was my state (Oregon). I think that the captialist aspect of tracking sex offenders is a bit much, and probably should not be allowed, the registration is a GOOD thing--in my line of work, it has allowed perps to be found more quickly, children to be saved, less absconds on parol, and many other benefits. Is it intrusive? Yes. But, I've seen the psychological profiles on many of these guys, after years and years of incarceration, and they WILL reoffend. I wish my bleeding liberal heart, which ordinarily sees the best in everyone, could believe otherwise, but it is simply not the case.

Awesome post.

Posted by: wavybrains at June 7, 2005 12:49 PM

"There was some scary shit going on in my life and I received the finest training from former FBI agents, Navy Seals and Special Forces guys."

oooo... mysterious. were you an international spy masquerading as a high school kid? that would rule.

re: sex offenders. I agree with everyone who said the sentencing needs to be re-examined. The punishment does not fit the crime. The mobile phone company who is capitalizing on registration? Those are some twisted, amoral people.

Posted by: jodi at June 7, 2005 1:16 PM

"But rarely do violence and retribution end with anything positive." Except in "Kill Bill, Vol. II". I got all veklempt when the Bride found her long-lost daughter.

Posted by: Jason at June 7, 2005 1:23 PM

The thing that pisses my shit off about the marajuana issue is that the courts even said that they felt there was significant evidence that marijuana is of medical value, but they can only rule on whether the feds are being unconstitutional. MJ is the only thing that a close relative of mine has been able to find in her YEARS of searching ("legal" and otherwise) that can control her pain enough to be able to function on a normal daily basis. Not of medical value? It should be as legal as alcohol no matter if it's for recreational or medical use. And I have never used it and never will.

And, yes, republicans are for state's rights- when it's convenient for them.

Posted by: heels at June 7, 2005 1:25 PM

the fact that marijuana isn't available, even medically, ALL over the USA is disgusting to me.

Posted by: Dawn (webmiztris) at June 7, 2005 3:50 PM

i feel bad for some of the sex offenders, if for the simple fact that it IS possible that events in their young lives have led them to be like they are, and i do think it is in a sense unfair to track them for the rest of their lives..make their neighbors glare at them forever..they have no escape..i guess what i am saying is, that it's just such a shame, all of it. i wish there was a way to treat thse sex offenders and send them back into the world as functioning citizens...but at the same time, so far thats a no go, they are likely to do it again...i work with preschoolers and so i have to say that we as grown ups need to know certain things to keep them safe..i just wish there was another way. its very sad, all around.

Posted by: lizabetty at June 7, 2005 5:08 PM

I'm with you. Except for guns. Having had two different child clients whose father's did a murder/suicide number I'm more agin 'em than ever. People get crazy from time to time. The last things they need in the house at a time like that are guns.
And that's just the way I feel about it. So there.

Posted by: vicki at June 7, 2005 6:26 PM

i agree.

Posted by: angel at June 7, 2005 7:29 PM

Didn't the ex prime minister of Canada say something like "I'll have my joint in one hand and my money in the other" when it was being decided whether or not to decriminalize marijuana in Canada?

Clearly I did not do a two minute search on Google for that one.

Anyway, I agree with you somewhat. Like, the continual harassment of sex offenders is wrong, but it's a difficult decision. I also think that marijuana should be decriminalized, but not made legal. Making it legal sort of condones it, but keeping non-violent offenders out of prison where they could become worse doesn't. And as for guns... well, I think our problems are deeper than gun legislation would solve.

Posted by: Sepra at June 7, 2005 8:40 PM

So, here's my take:

The Supreme Court decided in the same session that marijuana is evil, but that States also have no rights to regulate alcohol sales. This is against the 21st Amendment, but when the fuck have we cared about the Constitution?

Cancer and AIDS are horrible. They are not the only diseases. And for some people with chronic pain, marijuana is a HELL of a lot cheaper than the drug companies that are becoming a black market of their own. Scary, but true. And people with chronic illnesses sometimes can't hold down high-paying jobs.

Next bit: if we're going to throw out half the Constitution, why can't it be the half that does us little good? Guns. When was the last time you heard someone was shot? When was the last time it was the person protecting herself? Do the math, people.

As for child molesters. If they go to jail, what worse thing are they going to learn to do? I can't think of a worse thing to do. And we take away a lot of rights if someone commits a felony or a crime. Felons can never vote again. Even white-collar criminals. So to say we're picking on one group of people, well, sorta. I realize that pedophilia is a disease. But we don't have a cure. Nothing's proven to work. Not castration, physical or chemical. Not therapy. So we do this. Because although it hurts our sensibilities, we don't have a good way to protect those who did nothing, but lose a lot more than their rights if we do nothing.

Posted by: alektra at June 7, 2005 9:13 PM

Well lookie what ya did Chris...got everyone all riled up with your post! :) I am on the website for Megan's Law all the time and I found out that a sex offender, not a nice one at all, lived in the apartment complex of my 7 year old daughter's best friend. Well did I stop her from going there? I sure did. Did I alert the mother of the friend? I sure did. Am I happy that I had that option. I sure am. Just you wait until that beautiful Lima Bean of yours is out there in the big scary world, you better believe the Daddy claws will be out and you will be sitting on your computer tracking those sick people too. As far as the other two points I am totally "right there" (gesturing with my two fingers at my eyes) with you! G'night!

Posted by: Kate at June 8, 2005 1:57 AM

I was going to blog about this topic recently, but I can never put my thoughts into words when it comes to topics like this. I share your frustrations and concerns.

Posted by: Nicole at June 8, 2005 6:30 AM

If it makes anyone feel any better about being so harsh to child molesters, the fact is that by being so harsh we are actually preventing crime - child molesters beget child molesters. Every child they have no chance of harming is one less future child molester. Perhaps, like smallpox, we can phaze it out of existance.

Posted by: That Girl at June 8, 2005 10:12 AM

*applauds* I agree about everything. Even the sex offenders thing and I'm a rape victim.

Posted by: Pixie at June 8, 2005 11:29 AM

"we're holding different people to different standards. By registering and tracking, we're subjecting these people to a special form of harassment."

Be that as it may, I have to go with the folks who said that there are particularly horrific consequences for these crimes, versus bank robbing (and even arson in some cases). And I am a bleeding heart liberal-- I score to the left of Ghandi. But I am a mother first.

Ginny said, "Honestly, I hadn't thought about it much--but it is a blatant stomp on the rights of Americans."

I have no problem stomping all over the civil rights of a child molester. No problem whatsoever. These are not simply Americans anymore: these are criminals, who have not done anything besides sit in a jail cell to convince anyone that they will not commit the crime again. I agree with your point that perhaps we need to re-think the amount of jail time rapists serve-- but if we are going to do that, then isn't that still singling them out for a special kind of harassment by saying that one crime is more horrible than another?

Because some crimes are more horrible than others, and until we can lock up sex offenders longer (I have read enough about recidivism and failure of jail time to rehabilitate not to be convinced that once somebody serves their jail time that that is that: sometimes people walk on technicalities or get out before their sentences are served.) (And I am actually on the side, for some crimes, of the commenter who said that she doesn't want to see jail time for shoplifting that will become grand theft auto).

The long and short of it is that the good of the many comes ahead of the good of the few: I would rather tromp on the rights of sex offenders by registering them than risk the rights of innocent potential victims who have done absolutely nothing that warrants putting them at risk for not knowing if a convicted sex offender is nearby.

Posted by: jen at June 8, 2005 10:36 PM

That Girl said "child molesters beget child molesters. Every child they have no chance of harming is one less future child molester."

maybe i read that wrong, but it seems like the idea behind that is "every abused child will definitely become a child abuser."

as an abused child, as the sibling to abused children and as the friend of a LOT of abused children, i can safely say that that is total crap.

however, if i read it wrong and it was meant to read "is one less *possible* future child molester," then i completely agree.

Posted by: marie b. at June 10, 2005 2:41 PM