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 The truth is that historically once such laws if and when have been rescinded, there are years of apologies, compensation programs, and reeducation policies to heal all the decades of wrongdoing to ordinary human beings.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 ‚Äúthe ACLU is unable to provide assistance at this time.‚ÄĚ 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.

Keyboard Activist

When people, scholars, and advocates are told about the Civil Rights Movement, there are plenty of stories and references to share. Some prominent civil rights leaders naturally overshadow others that played a significant part. Most leaders we remember is either from lessons taught to us or the information we gather. Civil rights advocacy wasn’t solely on those who marched, spoke and wrote the most. Civil rights, to become a successful campaign and separate being labeled thugs or hostile people, introduced the practice of satyagraha. Satyagraha originated as a conceptual faith introduced and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi as a form of nonviolent resistance. Its use in India led to the nation claiming independence from the British Empire. The practice of satyagraha extends to others such as Nelson Mandela, Alice Paul, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Each of those leaders helped in ending apartheid, women’s rights, and equal access for all.

Satyagraha (sat·ya·gra·ha) noun Рa policy of passive political resistance, especially that advocated by Mahatma Gandhi against British rule in India.

In all of the cases where nonviolent resistance was applied, harsh laws were created to suppress particular groups it affected. The number of arrests from all nonviolent resistance movements is too overwhelming to comprehend. The total number of deaths attributed cannot be accurately measured. The number of participants that took part in any form of civil, human and equality cannot be measured. Was satyagraha successful in its methods? That would much depend on which demonstration or protest that took place. Some were successful, and some weren’t.

In the early 90’s I began my journey as a protester, marcher, and activist for gay equality and rights. My first task was a database administrator for a group known as Digital Queers. While Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, and countless others before me laid the groundwork for LGBT rights, I began to understand a determined message of unity despite policy or personal indifferences. I was refused service at restaurants, endured random physical attacks, detained during demonstrations, shot at, was the target of a firebombing, fired for suspected of being gay, served trespass notifications, and outed by others within the gay community while they continued acting as a straight to be accepted without suspicion. These were just a few of the issues not only I personally endured, but many others standing beside me. But I embraced a non-violent or amended version of satyagraha to keep at peace that what I was doing was just. It wasn’t a journey for my gay rights. It was a journey for the rights of others afraid to come out. At every instance where my rights were either discarded, stripped, or placed me in fear I made it a habit to pray for others. I avoided a melancholy expression as not to give an impression of vulnerability by others. It may sound ridiculous for some but non-violence must be a mental conditioning of inner peace. I am not suggesting that everyone find their medicament or take up yoga. Instead, I am suggesting that peaceful methods of activism must instill healthy and composed well-being.

Digital Queers – a national nonprofit network founded in 1992 of gay techies working to provide access to the community. The first organization to partner with and implement an all Apple Computer Server Network. Many of the original members are senior level Apple employees.

Whether your advocacy is for equality, justice reforms, ending the sex registry, legalization of cannabis, or anything else that is dear to your heart being mindful, respectful, and comfortable goes a long way. Being aware that you are mentally up for the challenge is critical maintaining a sense of sanity. Do you want to be the face of the movement, a face in the crowd, or a face behind the curtain? It is your choice in how you wish to engage effectively. Most new activists seek an action plan, agenda, talking points, organizational reference, visibility markers to identify other allies or supporters. Respect for others is crucial to deescalate conflict. Every protest has some form of counter-protest. Respect must be a part of advocacy both internally and externally. Freedoms are foundations that everyone has a particular right and belief system. Being respectful in most occasions allows moments of diplomacy and perhaps new opportunities. Comfort embraces self and where your value add is most applicable. There have been protests where a few participants march but lots of spectators are in fact supporters. This is where mindful and respectfulness incorporates significant opportunities ahead. Often it is the crowd that assumes the visible measurability outcome more than leaders, opposition, supporters, or other factors.

There were and still are groups within the LGBT community that took measures to another level. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) perhaps became the unfiltered voice of how leaders and communities were ignoring the AIDS crisis in the ’80s. ACT UP was very successful in many campaigns to tackle misinformation by effectively shutting down businesses and sponsors by intensive internet campaigns designed by Digital Queers and many other LGBT organizations. Leaders, politicians, and journalists were prime targets by ACT UP anywhere a media camera was rolling for any forms of recording. ACT UP would interrupt any reporting to inject its message. It became so intense that many news reporters couldn’t go live or had to voiceover back inside a studio. It was tremendously effective. It still falls within the bounds of non-violent but more of an aggressive tactic. Many LGBT members had mixed views. But ACT UP served its useful purpose to target its focus on AIDS leaving other LGBT issues in the hands of respective organizations properly organized to handle them.

AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) is an international direct action advocacy group that began in 1987 working to impact the lives of people with AIDS (PWAs) and the AIDS pandemic to bring about legislation, medical research and treatment and policies to ultimately bring an end to the disease by mitigating loss of health and lives. To make a donation to ACT UP visit https://actupny.com

Fast forward today, and the world has witnessed a transformation where gay marriage, open military service, employment rights, and other LGBT issues are widely accepted where once was thought to be impossible to achieve. As soon as the champaign, glitter, and outrageous costumes were swept up and stored away so did the opposition to retread the tires creating another momentum to reintroducing a reformed path to keep their agenda alive. All forms of rights will inevitably be tested in every generation. Civil rights are continuously challenged today. Women’s rights are still relevant in society. Social justice became talking points for the right to health care, and prison reforms suddenly became justice reforms. No matter what you call it, rights will have a pro and con advocacy armed and organized to voice its strong opinion, and both will have leaders not readily identifiable by name today.

Advocacy is a serious business for some. It is what motivates them to get up each day to perform something with passion, life, and gives them the energy to live life. To others, advocacy is ad hoc and doesn’t necessitate a priority in their life, and that too is completely fine. There will be bitter divisions, personal attacks of character, finger pointing, hostilities, and discourteous behaviors by the opposition and from within. Just as MLK is revered today as the leader of civil rights many forget the names of the sit-in protesters at a lunch counter in North Carolina. It may be harder for most to remember any member from the Black Panther Party? It is not to suggest that what they contributed to their own agenda was negative or unjust. Instead, quite the opposite. What they did was for a passionate plea to be recognized for that particular moment in time. It is up to us as people to research those that contribute and often extend a moment of gratitude for what everyone brings to the table.

Black Panther Party, original name¬†Black Panther Party¬†for Self-Defense, African American revolutionary¬†party, founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The¬†party’s¬†original purpose was to patrol African American neighbourhoods to protect residents from acts of police brutality.

At present, my education, research, family, pets, friends, and God are the most important values in my life. My days of protesting are still deep within me. But I resource my advocacy to prioritize in an ad hoc fashion so that I may be at peace with self, others and plan my time effectively. I have always been a James Bond movie fan. However, a quote from that movie sums up how effective my career has led me. In the movie Skyfall there is a line that others have shared and assessed the characterization of me. ‚ÄúI can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of earl grey than you can do in a year in the field.‚ÄĚ That is where I was in the ’90s with Digital Queers and where I belong today with university research and policy reforms with my laptop or iPad Pro ready to engage in this fast paced online world. I am grateful to those that undertake leadership roles. But I tend to root for those sitting in pajamas behind keyboards mistakenly viewed by some where they are also the ones changing and influencing the world by stealth and efficiency.