Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It has happened again

 A man has been murdered in his home, dead of multiple gunshot wounds. Although it should be, this is not an unusual occurrence.

This is a developing story, and details are being added hourly; this much is known: David Wheelock was a registered sex offender, required to be on the registry in the state of New Hampshire for one incident involving 28 charges of viewing illegal pornography in 2005. He was compliant with his legal requirements. He was found shot to death this past Saturday night, Dec. 21, in his home in Keene, New Hampshire. Mr. Wheelock was wheelchair bound due to multiple sclerosis.

Even though attacks on registered citizens are escalating, with an especially brutal vigilante double murder in South Carolina in June targeting a registrant and his wife, it is yet unknown if this was the motivation behind Mr. Wheelock’s murder.

His registrant status, though, certainly plays a part in media presentation and public reaction. Every article that I could find about his murder identifies him as a registered sex offender although, kudos to New Hampshire, not blaring from the headlines, which is more the norm.

One article notes that the attack was a "vicious" one. Another makes mention of the “dehumanizing effect” that placement on the list creates, and this is certainly borne out by comments on a Facebook page and online comment boards, often by people who have no qualms identifying themselves fully--unless they are using fake names and false photographs. 

Joel Kaplan: “No sympathy. Good riddance.” And “Guilty pervert. Only place left for him is hell.”

Nhstoneybrook: “A dead child molester is a good one.” (There is no indication Wheelock was a child molester; this is part of the negativity of the registry: sex offender = child molester in many people's eyes.)

Jenny Dow Dang: “I hope he died terribly.”

None of these people, nor the others who posted equally vile remarks, knew Mr. Wheelock. They do not know the specifics of his offense and his charges. They do not know whether he was actually guilty, only that he was adjudicated guilty. (28 charges could easily result from a scant handful of images and is an extremely low number for most who collect child porn.) They do not care that there has been no offense since the one arrest. They apparently do not care that he was seriously ill and disabled, confined to a wheelchair, posing no risk to public safety.

All they needed to know to make them feel totally justified in their vileness, viciousness, and hatred is that he was reported to be a registered sex offender.


I will be updating when new information is available.

Update 12/25; most interesting: from the office of the New Hampshire Attorney General:

Saturday, December 21, 2013

When sex offenders are the topic, we need some honesty in journalism and in legislation

Florida, which already has the reputation for its harshness and apparent lack of concern for measures promoting rehabilitation when dealing with sex offender legislation, has churned out four new bills, as detailed here.

The political posturing is seen from the first sentence but is no where more colorful than in the quote by Florida Senator Gaetz promising to "make Florida scorched earth for those who seek to harm our children."

I have two problems with the presentation of information in this article.

First, the standard for "sexually violent predator," if one actually reads the criminal code, is extremely vague and structured so that it could be, and undoubtedly is, applied to many who should not be in that category. The article, to be fair and balanced, has a responsibility to point that out.    

Secondly, using Mr. Harrel, who was not on the registry and therefore not a known repeat offender, as an example equal with Mr. Smith as "cases involving repeat sexually violent predators" is misleading, even unethical, journalism. Is Harrel the second-best example? Then the entire premise is a lie. Removing Mr. Harrel leaves only Mr. Smith, and the justification of "repeat sexually violent predators" coupled with the "last three years" is gone.

Both of these men were murderers. Both committed heinous crimes against their victims before they murdered them. Both deserve(d) appropriate punishment through the justice system. However, those designated as sexually violent predators in Florida who have murdered no one and fall far short of committing such heinous acts do not deserve punishment thinly disguised as "public safety measures" based on what those two men did.

If another has brutally raped a child, if another has murdered a child, then apply the stricter guidelines to him, not to the 99.9% who have done neither.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where Is the Outcry in a World Gone Mad?

I am old enough to remember the world before it went mad.

I read about a child--a baby, really, six--suspended from school for sexual harassment after he kissed a little girl in his class on the hand. Yes, he had apparently given her attention before, and some indications are it was unwanted attention, and correction of behavior may well have been warranted, but SEXUAL HARASSMENT at six?

The school has apparently removed that specific language from his record after an outcry that swept almost from shore to shore.

Thank God we are still out-crying against something.

I remember being on the playground during recess when I was probably eight. The girls were all together on the ground playing jacks, and the boys were across the way playing--whatever boys played. One little boy left the herd, swooped into the girl group, reached down and planted a very loud kiss on the cheek of the girl next to me, and raced back to his group amid the laughter of everyone. The group of teachers watching our play laughed the loudest. That was before the world went mad.

We do not outcry when legislators sell communities on the idea of 1000 feet residency and presence restrictive zones around schools, parks, libraries, and "any other place children congregate." There could not be a legislator alive who has not at least been told of the huge body of research and scholarly work showing these restrictions to be not only ineffective and having no correlation with improved public safety but also resulting in negative consequences that actually decrease public safety.

Politicians like to call these "unexpected consequences," but how can they be unexpected when they are as predictable as a hand put on a hot stove getting burned? And just as predictable is that anyone who attempts an outcry will be drowned out by strident ignorance making accusations of "child molester" against the few, weak voices.

Missing also is the outcry that should be heard as a massive roar after a state has "fallen" to the federal government's propaganda machine designed to "sell" the Adam Walsh Act. This has just occurred fully in Nevada, one of seventeen states to be so persuaded. Though being "reasonably compliant" for several years now, Nevada's Supreme Court  has, reluctantly, forced Nevada into the final step--and that should be said in the same tone as the final solution.

Several things should cause an outcry when any state adopts AWA: the realization that the federal money "saved" by not having it taken away is but a drop in the bucket to what it will cost to maintain the increased number of public registrants and everything the AWA requires; the anticipation of, with so many more people on the public registry, an increase in the instances of violence against registrants will occur, simply because they are so labeled; and, most onerous, registrants who have lived in peace for twenty years or more with a risk level of I, not requiring public notification, people who have never re-offended and have build decent and productive lives, are suddenly reassigned to Levels II or III based on nothing but the type of classification system the AWA requires, one that most experts say is the least effective. It usually doesn't take more than a year or two before the lives of these people and their families are destroyed.

But the greatest outcry should come over what Nevada is now facing. AWA requires that all persons who committed sexual offenses against children--anyone below sixteen-when they themselves were as young as fourteen, going all the way back to 1956, be subject to public registration.

Nevada, like many states who resist AWA compliance, has successfully followed research and expert recommendations in treating juvenile offenders "more like patients than prisoners." That approach will no longer be allowed; a fourteen year old who gives another fourteen year old an inappropriate touch and is charged with sexual battery will be a felon, on the public registry, with his life in ruins. Where is the outcry?

And in another two or three years, when a politician manages to convince the public that even consensual sexual activity with someone under sixteen, even if the partner is also under sixteen, is a criminal, registerable offense, will there be an outcry then?

I began this by speaking of the days before the world went mad. I remember seeing an image in textbooks when I was growing up, one that had become an icon for what we had believed was the end of madness, one that symbolized hope that sanity would return to the world. It was Alfred Eisenstaedt's  photograph taken in Times Square on VJ Day of an American sailor kissing a young woman who appears to be in a nurse's uniform. There is probably no one reading this who isn't familiar with it and the story behind it.

If that were happening in the world of today, would he be arrested on the spot and charged with sexual battery and required to register as a sexual offender?

And would there be any outcry?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Registered Sex Offenders and Parks--Can They Ever Co-exist?

I have just watched the San Antonio City Council vote unanimously to further restrict where San Antonio citizens who are listed on the sex offender registry may live and go in regard to city parks.

Watching this, it was clear it was a done deal. While advocates for fact-based laws spoke, begging the council to think this through more thoroughly and to be sure they had read the research, only one, a law enforcement officer, spoke for it, citing the need to have this as a tool in protecting children.

Recent incidents in public parks have been committed by those not on the registry. This ordinance would have offered no protection against them.

If the ordinance were more narrowly tailored to target registrants whose offenses were against children or, even more appropriately, registrants who have a history of luring children from public places, it would not be so offensive.

This is not the case. It will affect the grandfather who had an adult victim 25 years ago, totally paid his legal obligation, has never re-offended, and takes his grandchildren to the park on a regular basis. It will affect the father who is on the registry for an illegal but otherwise consensual sexual relationship with his high school sweetheart who has been for years his wife and mother of the children that he may no longer take to the park. It will affect the young man who was innocent of the accusations against him but was nonetheless convicted and required to register for life.

The only redeeming aspect of this ordinance is that it will not affect registrants who are already living in what will become restricted areas. But when they move, it will affect them. Due to the broad and ever growing range of what are considered sexual offenses, Texas adds an alarming number of individuals yearly to the registry. For those who live in or move to San Antonio, their already limited access to housing will be even more limited and difficult to obtain, a factor that research studies show works against rather than for public safety.

Theoretically, a registrant can apply for an exemption from the policy. When a council member pressed for assurance that this was a fact in reality, no one there could clearly articulate an answer. Finally someone managed to say that yes, if a registrant applied for an exemption before March 1st and it was granted, then if he were arrested/cited for being in a park, his exemption would serve as an affirmative defense.

That is not the same thing as being exempt from the ordinance.

San Antonio has enacted this day an ordinance that is contradicted by everything empirical data says about residence and presence restrictions against registered citizens. Other cities, having enacted them several years ago, have reversed them when lawsuits, wasted tax revenue, and other negative consequences made it clear they had made the wrong choice.

I await the day when the San Antonio city council reaches the same conclusion.