Saturday, November 22, 2014

But officer, really...that's not who I am...

by Shelly Stow

Things come in threes, they say--whoever "they" are. I sincerely hope not. Before eight o'clock on this gloomy Saturday morning, I had read two articles dealing with this topic, and I sincerely hope not to see a third. The two I read did an adequate enough job of raising my blood pressure.

The topic? Mistaken identity. Men arrested, held in jail, brutalized, lives destroyed, all because they were mistaken for a wanted sex offender.

And the most horrible and unconscionable element of all is the subtle, sub-textual inference that all that happened to them would be "okay" if they had been the sex offenders for whom they were mistaken.

Case number one occurred in North Carolina, and it took only four months for charges to be dismissed against Tommy Wall, but those four months were all it took for him to be fired from his job of 23 years and to be financially devastated to the point of losing his home and everything he had, including what was most important, his reputation. And why was he arrested? How could this confusion occur? Law enforcement had video of the man they sought, and he was bald. Mr. Wall is bald. How he got on the radar of law enforcement is not revealed, but he was arrested and held in jail for four months because he is bald. His attorney, the third assigned to his case and obviously the first to actually investigate the charges, noted that the video of the bald man actually sought by police showed a large mole on the top of his head. Mr. Wall had no such mole.

"The investigation should have been done a lot better," Webb [his attorney] said. "He has a big, big obstacle to overcome, because once you’ve been targeted and tainted with such a crime as this, it's going to follow you wherever you go."

The second case is even more egregious for several reasons. The wrongly imprisoned man is mentally ill. He was in a Georgia county jail for 525 days--almost a year and a half. He was raped and brutalized while under the custody and "protection" of the Fulton County Jail. And based on all available information, he was arrested because, when he was stopped by police, whether for an actual traffic violation or not is not made clear, he could not produce his driver's license; he is African-American; and his first name is Randy. Law enforcement were looking for a wanted sex offender who was African American and whose first name was Randy. They decided that they had just found their man.

He insisted he was not Randy Williams, the wanted man, but Randy Wiggins. And insisted. And insisted for a year and a half. And for a year and a half, Fulton County law enforcement and the district attorney's office and judicial system combined did not, according to all available information, do a fingerprint comparison between the Randy they were holding in jail and the Randy they thought they had arrested. The truth did not come out until Mr. Wiggins was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation.

Both men are free now. Both men will most likely bring legal action against the respective authorities, and I for one hope they get every penny they ask for and then some.

But what I hope for even more is that this not happen again. If a man were wrongly arrested for murder, there would be no immediate assumption of guilt, especially on the part of employers and others who know him. When the truth came out, it would be a case of mistaken identity, boy, the police can be stupid sometimes, and that would be it.

When a man is arrested for a sexual crime, be it a rightful or a wrongful arrest, the damage is done. Jobs are lost. Friends and acquaintances often flee. Brutalization occurs in jails and prisons, violence that is seen by many as proper consequences of committing--or even thought to have committed--a sexual crime.

What will it take for my hope to become reality? I don't know, but law enforcement must be accountable for their actions. They must take every precaution to assure they are not arresting, charging, and detaining an innocent person. A simple check to see if a bald head is sporting a large mole, a simple fingerprint comparison--is that too much to ask?

If the charge is for a sexual crime, apparently so.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And the greatest event of the year is...the bashing of The Shirt!

“It’s vulgar. It’s demeaning and insulting to women. It is definitely sexist. It symbolizes the entire male-privilege concept and the way men view women, as nothing but sex objects.”

“It’s just a shirt. Maybe it was inappropriate for the situation, but it isn’t important enough to overshadow the tremendous scientific accomplishment that was made. It’s a tempest in a teapot. It just isn’t that big a deal.”

For days now, I have watched the case of the offending shirt develop and have tried to be sure that I balanced what I read as evenly as possible between the pros—Matt Taylor good; shirt unimportant—and the cons—shirt evil; Matt Taylor a sexist pig.

I continued reading; I soon decided that I abhorred the vitriol with which some of the more strident shirt-haters expressed their opinions, but I equally despised the nastiness with which their opponents attacked them. There appeared to be no heroes in this battle.

I dabbled in a brief, back-and-forth with Jack Marshall on his ethics blog, which, incidentally, I never miss reading. My primary contention was that those vilifying the shirt—and Dr. Taylor—the strongest were lacking in credibility as sincere feminists because they were passing up the opportunity to highlight the role of females on the project, choosing instead to crucify Taylor for having the total lack of sensitivity and the unmitigated gall to wear that shirt for a television interview. As I phrased it to Jack in a comment, “That to me says their first priority is male-bashing at any cost with female accomplishments coming in a distant second.”

He expressed limited agreement with that but maintained that, “If he [Taylor] wore that shirt around female colleagues it was automatic sexual harassment anywhere in the US, and completely disrespectful to any woman, scientist or otherwise, in the room, regardless of what any law or policy said.”

My opinion was validated when I stumbled upon a blog, or a collection of blog posts, here. I read: 
You know what I find the most damning about this?
I spent three hours trying to find an interview or even an esposé on Kathrin Altwegg, one of the lead scientists on this mission* hoping to see something on the subject matter important to the research undergone, anything, even a modicum of a write-up about the women involved in the Rosetta Mission. Instead all I found was this tripe [the shirt issue]. 
*Altewegg also has 23 publications to her name relevant to the Rosetta missions, in case you were curious. Why isn't anyone talking about these achievements? Why is it all about what Matt Taylor wore? Why isn't there a single blogger giving these women the credit they deserve? 
This was a monumental opportunity for an intrepid blogger to sit down, reach out to the ESA and say "Hey, we'd like to interview some of the women on this mission because we feel like they've set a great platform for young girls to get involved in science in technology. These women participated in a scientific achievement that decades from now, others like them can look back and trace the roots of future scientific progress to the work these women did."
And then the piece de resistance came with this: 
As a female in the science community, I thank you for this.
It's really an amazing feeling when you are recognized for your achievements and not a lot of people realize how much is being done by females in science due to it being overpowered by "men scare women from science” (or some other bullshit like that which isn't true at all). 
Seeing this all over social media really just upset me
1- because I am super passionate about space science and development and that landing was a HUGE event.
2- because I am female and i think the way Matt Taylor's shirt is being perceived is completely stupid….So what if he has a ridiculous sense of fashion?…Humanity makes more out of an ugly shirt than the biggest event in science in the past couple of years and we need to realize those are now the people we share a planet with.
I understand that some want gender equality and whatever else but…you people need to get your shit together. 
And I believe that says it all. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sex Offenders and Halloween--will it ever stop?

What do these four headlines have in common?

"Staying safe and avoiding sex offenders while trick or treating on Halloween"

"Sex Offenders in Colorado Can Open Doors on Halloween" (sub-text: and we've got to put a stop to that)

"Police out in force for Halloween; extra eye on sex offenders in Effingham"

"County sex offenders required to report on Halloween"

Not a very hard question, is it? These are headlines of just four of a multitude of articles that appeared in online and print media in the four weeks before Halloween. Multitude? Yes...multitude. I captured 50 separate articles, coming from 22 separate states. Those are the ones that crossed my desk in the regular course of my work. When I did an actual search, they are less than half the number that one search brought up.

The states that seem to have put forth the most are, like the first one above, from states that have no restrictions in place for registrants on Halloween. One assumes that someone did his or her homework and knows this is a non-problem and no laws are needed. Not satisfied with that, enterprising law enforcement and journalists took it as a challenge and issued warnings left and right about the danger of those on the registry on this night above all. They cautioned every parent to check the registry carefully before letting the kids go trick or treating. Two of those states now have legislators considering bills that will bring their states in line with the ones that have restrictions. And so it spreads, like a fungus or a cancer.

Additionally, after Halloween a plethora of new articles appeared, all with the same theme: "We did it! We protected your children on Halloween from the big, bad sex offenders. No children were molested by anyone on the registry!" Well guess what, California and Florida? Guess what, Nevada? None were molested in Alabama or Kansas or Missouri either, or any of the other 20 or more states that have no state laws and very few or no jurisdictional ones that affect registrants on Halloween. None were molested anywhere by anyone on the registry while trick or treating--ever, as far as research has been able to determine.

But this is not what the public thinks. How could they when headlines and TV anchors shout at them for weeks about the necessity to take extra precautions on Halloween against "sex offenders"? This was made clear when, in response to an article titled, "Operation Scarecrow helped keep sex offenders away from kids on Halloween," I commented:
"Kept kids safe from sexual predators"--that is such a joke. I don't imagine any kids were attacked by hyenas either, so you might as well take credit for that also. I admit to that being a bit of hyperbole, but the fact is that children are at ZERO increased risk for sexual crime on
Halloween, and all of the law enforcement hype and political hype across the nation is just that--hype that has nothing to do with actually protecting children and much to do with making the public think so. There is no record of a child being molested by a registrant while trick or treating--ever. Now, if increased patrol cars and even foot patrols were out and visible, you may have had an impact on traffic safety and thus have saved a child from being hit by a car. That is what children are at increased risk for on Halloween, and six were killed this year trick or treating. We need facts and truth in laws, in law-enforcement, and in journalism.
I was immediately challenged by a well-meaning reader who wrote:
"the fact is that children are at ZERO increased risk for sexual crime on Halloween" Really, Shelly? And where did you obtain that fact from? From your extensive...several minutes worth of...thinking about the issue? Kudos to the officers for looking out for the kids. I'm glad they take the issue more seriously than Shelly does.
To his credit, when I nicely replied and gave an excellent research source as my evidence, he apologized and complimented me on my response. He is a rare, rare exception.

When did this start? I remember many articles last year, and the year before that, and....? Time out for research.

I searched "Halloween restrictions for sex offenders." I used the time frame of September 1 through November 15. I started at 2000 and came forward. I looked at every single entry. I did not look at any actual articles. If the entry did not clearly link danger from registered sex offenders with Halloween, I did not count it. Early on and continuing forward, the entries include reports of courts overturning or disallowing these restrictions. Frankly, I was surprised there were so many. Everyone needs to go to court over this. The entries also include material from advocates, experts, and research debunking the entire premise and the laws that are useless because there is no problem for them to address. This is by no means a "real" piece of research, but these are my results:

  • 2000  0 articles
  • 2001  1 article, written by someone denouncing the rumors of children's deaths by poison in treats; he calls it Halloween sadism; sex offenders are not mentioned, but I found it interesting.
  • 2002  0
  • 2003  3; California, Louisiana, and a third I was unable to determine announced their creation of laws restricting the activities of registrants on Halloween.
  • 2004  1
  • 2005  11; Megan's Law was mentioned in two of the entries
  • 2006  8
  • 2007  15
  • 2008  60 ?? My guess is that SORNA was becoming a motivating factor.
  • 2009  23
  • 2010  40
  • 2011  66
  • 2012  100
  • 2013  117
  • 2014  177
With very few exceptions, the pattern is clear--an increase every year. I do not expect a decrease for next year, but maybe more will be announcing the overturning of some of these laws. The evidence is clear and compelling that they are laws that have no purpose and no merit.