Today I read something that changed my mind. A very basic legislative attempt in Minnesota to begin correcting some of the problems with the state's sex offender program there has hit a roadblock. Described as "modest first steps" by its proponents, the bill is being criticized by the opposition party, and the bill's author laments that "lawmakers who vote for it could be 'spun as being soft on crime and soft on sex offenders.' ” This perception, she fears, will assure its death because even those who believe in it will abstain from going on record as voting for it.
My posting on the comment board had to do with what legislators of integrity would do, and then I remembered my little blog post that was never intended to see the light of day and decided that its time had come.
There have been times in this nation when legislators of integrity were willing to stand up and right horrible wrongs. Things go in cycles, they say--whoever they are--and maybe that time will come again.
One of our greatest civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr., stood in Washington, D.C. many years ago and told the nation that he had a dream. He dreamed of an end to laws and policies, written and unwritten, that ostracized and dehumanized millions of citizens based on nothing but their inclusion in a group that was different from the dominant group.
Fifty years later we are embroiled in another civil rights issue that threatens to rend apart the fabric of our nation. Once again laws and policies exist and are added almost daily that ostracize and dehumanize several million citizens based on their inclusion in a group that is as varied and diverse as were the millions of African Americans whose equality Dr. King dreamed of.
Under the huge umbrella of individuals who are affected by the policies that govern sexual crime today, specifically SORN and the Adam Walsh Act, are those who have nothing else in common. Some committed misdemeanors and some felonies. The acts of some were consensual while others were forced. Some are male and some are female. Some are children as young as nine. Some are men in their nineties who have lived half a century past the commission of a single offense. Some committed no crime; they were falsely accused and wrongly convicted. Some were not even accused; they are the husbands and wives and children and parents of those who were.
Like Dr. King, I too have a dream. I dream that another person, one whose face is unclear in my mind, will stand up in Washington, D.C., in a chamber where SORN is being discussed and debated, and will forcefully denounce the direction that these laws and policies have taken and are continuing to take us. In my dream, I can hear some of the words he will say.
“These laws were not based on facts or evidence. They were enacted hastily in response to a very few heinous crimes. Research has called the effectiveness of some of them into serious question and flatly contradicted others. We have made some serious mistakes. We must not compound those mistakes by continuing down the same path. We must build on what we have learned from our mistakes. We must enact laws based on evidence, on certainties, not on myths and half-truths and vaguely held beliefs. We must start over.”
In my mind the words echo from the Senate floor, through the halls of Congress, out from the windows and porticos, across the rolling lawns and onto the very steps of the Lincoln Memorial where, all those years ago, Dr. King shared his dream, a dream that helped undo generations of injustice and make the concept of equality for all a little closer to reality.
And in my dream, upon his chair of stone, I think I see Lincoln’s lips twitch in a half-smile, and further back, peering from the misty shadows, a handsome, dark face nods approval.