We Have A Choice

Every election cycle may see the creation of a legislative bill aimed directly at people on the sex offender registry. Regardless of what the bill is titled, there will always be an argument without supporting facts or evidence the bill “will keep children safe”. 

It has been only a month into a new political cycle. We are once again witnessing a national legislative agenda filled with residency restrictions, senior assisted living, exclusionary benefit schemes, parental rights, and other bills directly aimed at people on the sex offender registry. 

However, only a few short months ago, we heard manifestos of politicians exclaim criminal justice reforms and a return to compassion for human life. However, the same elected people that we count on to make that change and live up to their word are often the very people that alienate their agenda, returning to fear-laced propaganda and divorcing rational thought. 

If you were to take any of the current sex offense bills and remove the title “sex offender” and replace it with African-American, Jewish, Gay or Lesbian, or Latino, there would certainly be an outcry of discrimination. But that is what politicians do when creating law. The United States has been down that road before with Jim Crow-styled laws and loud politicized rhetoric that always seems to mention protections without any supporting facts or evidence. The truth is that historically once such laws if and when have been rescinded, there are years of apologies, compensation programs, and reeducation policies to heal all the decades of wrongdoing to ordinary human beings. 

It is all a more incredible lesson of what Nazi soldiers said after the war about witnessing atrocities and the rounding up of human beings they were told to treat as criminals. In their defense, Nazi soldiers would say, “I had no choice” or “it was my duty”. Nazi leaders would tout, “this is the protection of the fatherland”. Similar arguments are continually argued about the U.S. Civil War reconstruction era, the Hopewell Native American treaty, the Civil Rights Selma to Montgomery marches, to the Stonewall riots. However, the lesson learned moments are striking similarities that lawmakers and people haven’t learned much from history and continue to spew rhetoric to incite fear without data or evidence citing it is for America’s safety. 

As Americans, we ought to be striving for opportunities to educate and facilitate best practices towards confronting our worst fears by creating a fair policy for all. Instead, we continue to live in a world guided by Jim Crow laws with a McCarthy-styled methodology that everyone could be an offender or sympathizer. We shouldn’t want to live in a nation where fear drives us? 

Our leaders have a moral obligation to do the right thing for all people. While politicians lay claim to following a spiritual path, they too often stray, leaving behind moral thought and embracing corruption by saying, “I had no choice”. Thus history ultimately repeats itself, causing morality to be stuck in the mud. 

Perhaps the best medicine for our history is to become stewards of what is right and fair for all. But such action requires people to become active voices in pushing back. Never assume that others are doing the work for you. While people sat idly by and witnessed Nazi atrocities, civil, gay, or Muslim rights being egregiously violated, what are you doing to back up the voices that represent your concerns? Pick up the phone and call your legislative representative to voice your opposition to a bill. Invest in memberships to organizations that support your cause. Show up in person to your legislature, allowing your lawmakers to see advocacy no longer afraid. 

Dr. Judith Levine researched in 2016, African Americans account for 22 percent of publicly listed registered sex offenders nationally; they make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population. However, that number is staggeringly growing by the day. During this period of Black History Month, we ought to take a moment to reflect on how far we may have come but how far we have to go. We have a moral duty to get things right moving forward.

The ACLU is Not Our Friend

Since the beginning of President Trump’s tenure, there has been rhetoric about immigration, and violent sex offenders turned loose from prisons. Leading the way is, supposedly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). But the ACLU has habitually missed significant steps forward in fighting for the rights of those impacted by the sex offender registry. Instead, the ACLU failed to identify the inaccuracies, injustices, and misinformation about sex offender registries. Instead the ACLU focused upon people that are not American citizens and have direct diplomatic relations with their respective nations to highlight an obvious problem. Registrants have no constituencies what so ever. While I think it is essential to protect all people, the American based (ACLU) focused on non-Americans to grow its membership internationally, alienating sex offenders, families, allies, and most of all the common American citizen.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

The ACLU has had since the 2006 federal passage to a nationally based sex offender registry has failed to become involved in the sex offender registry issues. Anyone that performs a web search where the ACLU has become a defender of registry issues may be in for quite a surprise. The ACLU has made no real effort to fight for the rights of registrants and their families. However, when a case such as Packingham v. North Carolina or the recent Michigan Doe vSnyder, the national ACLU will take credit for something it didn’t really have an initial substantial interest or follow-up after the fact. The ACLU habitually misses civil justice by quickly touting a win in the courtroom but failing to apply that win to the public for immediate use. It is deeply saddening and an injustice to all of those impacted by the sex offender registry that the ACLU has done nothing to enforce the rulings after the fact or to become involved in complex registry issues. The lack of representation by a nationally known organization somewhat renames the ACLU to the “Abandoned Civil Liberties Union.”

Sure, there can be a supporting argument that Michigan ACLU did a marvelous job in protections of those impacted and punished by sex offender registries. However, it is safe to say that the national ACLU didn’t lend the Michigan chapter much support. Instead, I foresee the ACLU with an agenda to further other registries without taking into consideration that “all registries do harm” approach. Therefore, I am a skeptic of the ACLU because the organization fails to embrace the sex offense conversation and the collateral consequences associated with registries.

Over the past year, I and many others have reached out to form partnerships, memberships, and request guidance or assistance for blatant human rights violations of registered sex offenders particularly in North Carolina or the national level. Such developments surround the Alabama Castration law, registrants in North Carolina unable to attend religious services, and the Georgia Halloween issue that quickly spread into North Carolina that still goes unanswered and unchallenged. Each and every time, I received a reply that “the ACLU is unable to provide assistance at this time.” My question to the ACLU is, “when is an approrpiate time?” Thos on the sex offender registry have endured ex post facto policies and inhumane liberties for decades. Yet the ACLU rushes to the #MeToo movement alienating simple Americans because they are not as cash rich as the Hollywood machine to capitalize a money gravy train. When the ACLU fails to address the complexities of sex offender registry issues presents a harsh reality to the sex offender community that the ACLU has given its stance about sex offender registry rights by completly ignoring them and will continue to ignore them.

But one thing is for sure, the ACLU and its chapters are quick to send out a mass mailing or email to beg for our money. It presents an appearance that the ACLU has migrated from grassroots to become a cash-for-rights agency, or it appears to be the reality for most registrants.

People listed on the sex registry, not on probation or monitored, are banned from religious services, banned from public spaces, banned from picking up or dropping off their children from school or daycare, banned from attending church, banned from visiting a state fair, banned from Facebook or other social medial platforms, cannot vacation or commercial properties in Florida or other states without registering within so many hours or the threat of jail. Yet, the ACLU remains invisible to sex offender registrants. The harsh reality is that at least those detained in an immigration holding center have more freedoms and representations than a person affected by the sex offender registry because they may do all those things mentioned once released. Immigrants are not living under a bridge, homeless, jobless, have a sex offender stamp printed on their driver’s license or passport, can receive health care, and assistance for legal advice. Registrants do not have these basic needs and equal access to these rights as Americans.

Civil rights begin right here on our doorsteps. Our nation relies upon effective leadership and organizations to advocate our concerns. But the ACLU with its ennoormous tax-free breaks and agenda on the backs of hard working Americans has gone to the wayside in the name of big donors and publicity of the easy tasks. The ACLU has become an agency center-stage to politicize its agenda by involving itself in the center of the #MeToo movement. Doing so presents a one-sided advocacy that rather than a focus on liberty and justice for all which implies both sides. Clearly the ACLU doesnt seem to care about liberty and justice unless it is profitable for them and allows easy access in giving the ACLU sole recognition value for hard work done by grass-roots advocates. The nearly 1 million registrants and their families have been significantly let down by the ACLU.

The purpose of “Me Too”, as initially voiced by Tarana Burke as well as those who later adopted the tactic, is to empower women through empathy and strength in numbers, especially young and vulnerable women, by visibly demonstrating how many women have survived sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.

The ACLU has had nearly a decade to identify through various high profile federal cases grass-roots organizations to help benefit their primary cause and mission statement. Organizations such as NARSOL, ACSOL, WAR, and other state-affiliated organizations seek a relationship with the ACLU. But perhaps the ACLU is too ashamed to deal with real problems or association? With almost a million registrants, there doesn’t seem to be a blip on the radar screen that the ACLU is an ally the registry community can rely upon or trust. Civil liberties don’t take sides. It is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country. This is where the ACLU has failed us and will continue to do so until the registry community hold them accountable for for abandoning registrants. Registrants are not seeking to overturn convictions. Registrants are simply asking for liberty to be preserved after incarseration or sentencing once completed.

We must immediately stop any contributions to the ACLU financially and socially until it returns towards its grassroots of defending liberty and civility for all citizens. Registrants can no longer depend on the ACLU name to support unjust causes – unless, of course, you have a significant cash reserve to present to them. The ACLU must stop acting like a social club with a velvet rope among the very supporters of liberty. Perhaps it is time to close the good ole boys club and support real causes that affect real people?

Eventually, the ACLU will become ensnared into the registry somehow. I certainly do not wish that upon anyone. However, for the lack of ACLU representation amongst us it will perhaps take years of trust building to return towards a civil and educative conversation. The ACLU has abandoned those impacted by the sex offender registry and should be ashamed to call itself an national organization that “defends and preserves the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country. ” A friend would not abandon another brother.

Freedom with an Asterisk

Those that were convicted of a sex offense in North Carolina and not serving a day in the walls of a prison suddenly became prisoners in their own homes. Instead of the infractions of too many stamps, unauthorized cigarettes, or yelling profanities at staff while incarcerated shifts to being set free but unable to live where you want, unable to secure employment, cannot attend church, and unable to access the internet under the consequence of bring imprisoned for just a hint of being accused.

When people leave prison, the first initial desires are to order a steak, or watch a movie, go on a trip, or finally reach out to family, friends, and other support mechanisms to share the joy of being released. However, registrants experience a much different circumstance. They are not permitted to access the internet, go to Disney or any theme park, make a call on SnapChat, share a joyful event on Facebook, or display a happy face on Instagram. Registrants are also under the threat of being rearrested and feloniously charged with going to a movie, mall, McDonald’s, the beach, or accessing the internet because of state laws and restrictions.

Perhaps those of the registry do not have any luxuries of support by family or friends. The most they can do with their new freedoms are to dream about going to a museum, going back to school, the discovery of workshop therapy to overcome anxiety or stress. Instead, those same registrants that dream of such activities are again prohibited from accessing any of those abilities under the threat of arrest and prison.

Politicians that tout justice reforms and lowering prison populations are the same people that created this fiasco of freedoms. For every two laws that are overturned, it is politicians and community leaders without facts, data, or supportive evidence that create fifteen new laws and provisions restricting more freedoms. Leaders lay claim about teamwork, inclusiveness, and equality for all; however, they use the word “but” to wedge a blanketed liability policy to protect themselves from the scrutiny of appearing weak.

Religious leaders that exclaim the love and joy of God with an all-forgiving sermon of “all are welcome” and “this congregation welcomes sinners” suddenly interjects an asterisk of exclusion of sex offenders. Ministers now have other gods before them by allowing the challenge of the state to dictate how they should seat their congregations. Insurance companies dictate to religious institutions policy provisions that clearly state sex offenders must be excluded because the property has Sunday school or daycare during services. The church is no longer autonomous but a follower of man, not God. Ironic, and institution that is supposed to teach about confronting fear is the very place that fails to address and face its fears and learn or embrace trust and forgiveness.

But I am pleased not to have Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, be a sucker of Disney memorabilia, attend church, listen to politicians, participate in overpriced movies, visit museums or be a part of the fake agenda laced internet. Perhaps I should thank lawmakers for allowing me to see the light on my own rather than the peddling of their darkness. Sure, I would like to have unlimited choices as others. But perhaps this lesson is that not only am I excluded from the adulterated scheme and fraud of religious, economic, and social freedoms. But I am a product that because of the registry, there is no such thing as freedom in America – only the illusion of such qualities with and convenience and hidden asterisk. It is all these collective institutions that promote freedom, all while excluding free choices based upon its intnerally laced liability scheme of fraud and misleading information.

I embrace these restrictions because I can now see the real mission of politics, leadership, and how influential products guide us towards their way of thinking rather than the free will and openness of genuine choice and liberty. Maybe I should begin some self-imposed disconnects to bring clarity around me? I lived without much of these luxuries before either they were invented or available. Perhaps dialing the clock back isn’t such a bad idea after all. Let me take away before “they” take it away, and I have to ween myself off of other pacifiers.

But I would like to have the freedom to walk in any park – which is still against the law in North Carolina. Choices can be a bitch sometimes.

Image Is Everything: How The Anti-Registry Movement Has A Potential Public Relations Image Problem

Today I read in the news where an elementary student in Florida was bullied for creating and wearing a homemade version of the University of Tennesee shirt for a “college colors day” school event. But what happened next was a complete surprise for the student at the University of Tennessee adopted his design, making it an official design which has been the highlight of anti-bullying sales. It is where negative development suddenly became a positive experience for both the student and the community. Mainly, it was an excellent lesson learned moment in how to image and public perception quickly manifests into a unique public relations opportunity.

But anti-bullying sometimes has a two-way street. A discussion with doctorate students tackled how the sex offender registry seems to be along with the same tactics of bullying towards a specific group of people — mainly registered offenders. However, many in the discussion group also emphasized where anti-registry organizations tend to become rather intimidating in return towards the opposition. But an interesting sociological research discovery has quickly identified that anti-registry advocacy websites, in dates ranging over fifteen years, are defined as targeting its primary membership or followers. Rather than emphasizing policy indifferences, the discovery of rhetoric or discourse became personal in nature and parliamentarian. This led to further discussions that anti-registry advocacy, in general, isn’t focused upon the core legislative or policy of facilitating open dialog. Anti-Registry members often create quasi-registries identifying individuals within their advocacy. I was unsure how to approach this because of my relationships within anti-registry support and being harassed by a specific individual from the past. But the consensus of the doctoral level discussion group left me with a feeling that anti-registry organizations have a public relations snafu on its hands, and the internet is not very forgiving upon removing past discussions. It is viewed in the interim moment as a disgruntled group of people that seem to cannot come together to remedy a complex issue. A core reason to take away from our discussions over the past three weeks was anti-registry groups appear solidly disgruntled in general. This was a disturbing revelation to me and provided me insight on how the future of anti-registry movements must become more diplomatic and rational in discussions to maintain a close dialog with leadership rather it be opposite or within scope.

Sociologist, psychologists, communications, and policy scholars researched the internet and media sites deeply to discuss our topic of registry image and effect. The assignment provided research tools from an outside perspective that presented insight that I was unaware of. Rather than guiding others on how they viewed the sex offender registry, I wanted to gain knowledge of how they saw the registry by seeking “anti registry only materials or websites.” What the group discovered was a dark and often vicious bully styled dialog or information about the opposition or policy. There was little to no alignment towards sharing commonality or similarities that would perhaps open a dialog towards “being in the same room” to discuss how to remedy many situations where registrants may have a voice. Instead, scholars came to the same conclusion that anti-registry advocates don’t appear to want to facilitate change or chip away at issues. Instead, the consensus was it was an all or nothing gamble with an amplified noise effect of laying claim to victimization. I am unsure if I agree with these assessments. But as a researcher, I must keep an open mind that our image is our cause. One nasty comment or bullying tactic from within about others reflects upon us all and will ultimately set back any hopes of navigating forward.

To best address negativity within the anti-registry movement, there must be an act of forgiveness for the actions of others. This began with lengthy discussions with various members of Congress, state representatives of multiple states, and candid dialog with sheriffs, attorney generals, and pro-registry organizations. This is a reset for the organization I represent but also how I can influence change among a persuasive university. So far, the motion is working, and some legislation has been tabled, deleted, or challenged. Is it an absolute win? Not always. But the open doors has managed to develop into a transparent dialog and small steps towards better resolution and outcomes. The days of bullying one another have significantly ended. Congressional, state and municipality leadership now has credible representation to perform diplomatic relationships where each side has a value in being heard and respected. The outcome has both positive and negative results. However, the benefit is that there is an opportunity to be continually heard without the need for bullying, petty name-calling, and allowing discussions to be facilitated among professionals rather than amateurs. This is where mastery level and higher scholars collectively agree that anti-registry organizations must do more to expand among other organizations that have dotted line influences to determine best that registry advocacy and its effects are among all walks of life, race, religion, and gender.

Our initial findings quickly identified that anti-registry movements must promptly develop a strategy to reach out to media outlets to discuss the problematic stigmas but also reasonably address how to facilitate effective public policy. Merely throwing a target to media that the registry must be abolished was not the most effective methods in starting that conversation. Next, there must be a face representation and aligned embodiment of the same language, script, and calm delivery that changes the stigma that all registrants are angry individuals with a motive to shout down legislation or policy leaders. Again, the consensus was that anti-registry issues had to become personal where others are deeply affected, but those individuals would be required to come forward to advocate from their perspective. Lastly, image means everything in today’s media-filled world. The delivery must be polished and well-rehearsed. Too much data doesn’t get the message delivered. The public image wants to visualize rehabilitative, reformed, and well thought out diplomatic individuals willing to calmly work with the most strenuous opposition. There must always be a methodology of cohesiveness and respectful disagreement but complimentary as not to alienate from within or the intended audience. Again, image and easy to follow scripts are the keys towards successful and credible conversations. If the public relations perception fails to change, then so will the same result become increasingly clear that the registry or similarly policy-driven initiatives will remain for decades to come.

Disclosure: doctoral-level students of law, public policy, sociology, and communications researched in depth about sex offender advocacy websites to best determine if they could understand the cause and effects of registrants, families, and allies. Their findings were not influenced by myself. The research group studied scholarly and anti-registry organizations solely based upon web-searches The assessment presented is only based upon their discoveries and document sharing. No interviews were necessary for this academic workshop. The purpose was to learn how credible information may be introduced, and the impact researchers can be emotionally influenced as a particular cause may have significant issues that distract from the core cause of the organizational framework. This is not a scientific published study. However, the communications and sociology departments have discussed perhaps pursuing a scholarly project. 

Advocacy Is A Buzzword

Over the summer, I have been enrolled in doctoral courses to meet my educational requirements towards the completion of my Ph.D. in Public Policy. I have had the interesting ability to collaborate with various universities. During a recent conference call, we managed to discuss the particulars of research that we are currently engaged with or wish to pursue. Many students took a moment to review the various organizations they have been connecting or collaborating. There were discussions on how to better understand the perspective. Are the usefulness of information, advocacy, and how the organizational framework is useful towards a community or audience? One identifying issue kept repeating itself. That issue is that organizational fractures are common. Perhaps a reason that many causes or concerns never officially get off the ground is actionable working agendas, or motivational advocacy are too involved in personal issue or squabbles over petty things.

I too struggled over the past few months within organizations that, to me, seemed to be the best insightful methodology at quickly identifying issue or concern. What may be considered petty politics are often blown way over the proportion of the realities that either nobody cares or people are concerned with the microcosms of office politics. But a departmental professor brought up a very valid point that “advocacy is a buzzword that projects an interest mainly with one-sided viewpoints.” I had to let that sink in for a moment to grasp the concept. But perhaps the professor is right? Public policy, at least from my skill set, should be about the approach of balance from both sides. It doesn’t imply that I should discard my advocacy or belief systems. Instead, I should allow discourse to learn, strategize, but use compromise as a way to tweak towards results-driven deliverables.

There is much research, data, and scholarly information readily available if one looks deep enough. At times there may not be relevant data on a larger scale. But when I seek databases to drill down far enough, I can obtain the data to start something or allow an issue to expand by updating the results or findings. After all, that is, research in general.

What is missing from sex offender registry advocacy is professional quantitative research methods. Sure there are informational sites that show various statistical data, but rarely, are available by journal sites. However, for the sake of fairness, there is plenty of sex offense data from federal and state publications. While that particular data may be discouraging to sex offender advocacy, the data is credible and adequately peer-reviewed. But I pose this challenge to seek out a specified research method and bring that into the academic arena. Only then will that information become credible, listened, argued, and scholarly enough to gain traction. Perhaps this is why sex offender policy is stuck in the mud. There is only the emotional data rather than equity of research methods that may be introduced into an academic and shared among those that practice law?

Until state or local sex offender advocacy organizations begin to utilize comparative analysis and research methods within its structures, it will continue to fall upon deaf ears. Primarily because that particular data is a buzzword of credible information that fails to meet the credibility standard to the academic community. Now is time to begin shifting the burden of knowledge to scholars, professionals, and laypersons to deliver that message striking a chord of compromise and discourse.