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 The truth is that historically once such laws if and when have been rescinded, there are years of apologies, compensation programs, and reeducation policies to heal all the decades of wrongdoing to ordinary human beings.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.

Crime Does Pay – if you work for the prosecution

If you think that crime doesn’t pay? Think again. The criminal justice system in America is perhaps the most well-financed institution of government anywhere in the world. In fact, to provide how well funded criminal justice inquiry alone is probably is to reflect on previous Presidential investigations ranging from Watergate to the Bill Clinton affair. There is no expense cap on how much money is spent. But take a moment and try to imagine how prosecutors in courts across America with sometimes unlimited resources don’t try to locate the truth? Instead, it seems to be to find the win. Many cases uncovered over past decades by advocacy organizations or third-party investigators have witnessed an alarming trend that prosecutors, despite evidence that could significantly deteriorate a case or allow an innocent person to be free, insists on plea bargains and continuing the cases all in the name of winning. It makes absolutely no sense. Or does it? Perhaps the art of winning a claim has no repercussions because the way policy and law protect prosecutors and the state.

Prosecutorial immunity is the absolute immunity that prosecutors in the United States have in initiating a prosecution and presenting the state’s case. “Firming up what had long been held as common practice, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 ruled in Imbler v. Pachtman that prosecutors cannot face civil lawsuits for prosecutorial abuses, no matter how severe.” Prosecutors have qualified immunity in other activities such as advising police and speaking to the press.

When the Duke Lacrosse case made headlines all across living rooms, we listened to Nancy Grace of CNN vilify a university rape culture of athletes taking advantage of a poor African American woman by violently raping her over and over. The news was enough to make anyone angry that such alleged activity would take place. However, as the evidence unfolded, there became significant cracks on both the police, the prosecution, and witness, and the overall method in which the case had been investigated from the start. Instantly, the news splashed released from police reports already created the most damaging evidence against the accused where they will be forever known as the “Duke Lacross players accused of rape”. In fact, there was no rape at all! To make matters worse; Nancy Grace never made a formal apology to the team, coach, or university for her brash and unfiltered scorn of something that didn’t happen. Nancy simply moved on to the next big story in her unapologetic manner. However, we do see the same tactics being used over and over each week in the news by prosecutors, police, and the media. The difference is maybe that there was a Lacrosse team whereas most rape or sexual assault cases involve only one on one allegations. Mostly, the team story was scripted. It was a validation of truth by a group of men with the same story backed with evidence, whereas one versus one in other cases does not have such luxuries. Therefore, prosecutors don’t really care if the truth is out there. It becomes an art of only finding a win for the prosecution.

The prosecutor is an administrator of justice, a zealous advocate, and an officer of the court. The prosecutor’s office should exercise sound discretion and independent judgment in the performance of the prosecution function.

There are naturally good people and good prosecutors. But there is a stigma all across America that prosecutors are elected people that need reelection to maintain and keep their jobs. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd that we never hear in the media where a prosecutor discover evidence that may set a person free and perhaps convict the false accuser? This never happened in the Duke Lacross case and didn’t seem that it will ever happen in other courtrooms across America. Doing so, by the voices of prosecutors and lawyers would place the judicial system in a tailspin. Perhaps that is what our nation requires? A pursuit of the truth – so help us, God. Justice reforms aren’t about tearing down the judicial system. Reforms are about the discovery of the truth to align the field evenly so that justice for all prevails.

Perhaps another issue regarding justice reforms may begin with how the media reports and could sway the public from a fair trail by disclosing too much information — reigning the press in a bit with regards to public records and judicial matters aren’t silencing the media. Instead, it allows a cooling period so that both sides are protected. Under the current system, the victims are ALWAYS protected while the accused is splattered across airwaves and social media in nanoseconds. We ought to change that system for the sake of justice reforms and perhaps restorative justice.

More than 90 percent of state and federal criminal convictions are the result of guilty pleas, often by people who say they didn’t commit a crime.

Again, the state and prosecution have an unlimited resource of funding at its disposal. Yet we have “backlogs” of DNA testing, cases where plea deals are often 85% or higher of most case settlements, decades later evidence discovered or unearthed in storage rooms long forgotten by police agencies, and advocacy groups without much funding at all uncovering questionable evidence that could have allowed a person to be free. It is disconcerting, especially in a country where parties are required to swear upon a bible or affirm, they are telling the truth before a court. However, this policy is not extended to prosecutors to affirm or swear they are telling the truth. They don’t have to because they will always have immunity. Doesn’t seem right, does it? But it is your system of government. So, what are you going to do about it?

Stop Dividing Families and Ideals

North Korea has a long-standing law called “three generations of punishment.”  If one person is found guilty of a crime and sent to a prison camp, so too will their entire family, and the subsequent two generations born at the camp must remain there for life. Perhaps President Trump sought to infuse a bit of that energy altering it by dividing parents from children housed at immigration camps. The President has a personal agenda that went a step further by hinting during his campaign suggesting Hispanics are rapists, criminals and responsible for gang warfare with sad commentary that some are good. Perhaps this is where the far-right embraces its unscholarly rhetoric because enforcement and creation of our policies seem somewhat North Korean, East German, and Soviet.

Before we begin slinging the hammer and sickle of change, we may want to reflect on how our perception and approach has significantly changed. Many may recount the days of Jane Fonda controversial visit to North Vietnam which branded her the name of “Hanoi Jane.” Another similar instance is when basketball star Dennis Rodman visited North Korea during the Obama administration. These individuals were hounded and scorned by media, the general public, and naturally politicians. Because high profile individuals attempt to try to mediate truce or other politicized means, there is a level of contempt that they are doing more harm than good. Today we are witnessing a dramatic shift in how sworn enemies or those where a majority of citizens are wary of relations, this President wants to stride in to assert that “these are good people.”  The implication is that tough and ruthless leaders are good and democratically elected individuals are not so good? At least that is the takeaway points I am witnessing. The punishment that Trump is conveying is the media is unfair to him, liberals are dividing this nation, the FBI is not to be trusted, anyone that disagrees with the President is not loyal and deserves public admonishment. Does this sound like a nation built upon free principles?

If you want to understand the platform of the traditional Republican Party, then reflect on a time where Nancy Reagan once touted, “say no to drugs” campaign. Shift forward to modern day platforms where heroin and drugs from Mexico is the biggest threat to American society. Attorney General Jeff Sessions guidances from former President Barack Obama’s administration that allowed states to legalize marijuana with minimal federal interference. Now Trump says he is likely to support ending a federal ban on pot. Perhaps that recent United States/North Korea summit had an ah-ha moment? Marijuana is legal in North Korea. It’s perfectly legal to buy and smoke cannabis in public and private. Cannabis grows wildly in North Korea and has been sold abroad by government agencies as a way to earn foreign currency.   Maybe Trump took a whiff and passed and saw a potential job creation moment? (after all, we didn’t see Dennis Rodman, but he was at the summit somewhere?)

What I do not understand is how our neighbors to the south are considered rapists, gangs, and drug dealers but the North Korean people are suddenly, in the eyes of the President, worthy of a sit-down? Ironic that North and South Korea are in negotiations to tear down its demilitarized zone in exchange for peace and prosperity. However, Trump continues to hammer at legislation to build a wall. North Korea has political prisoner camps that lock up families, and now we witness our administration locking up families but dividing them. I personally find it interesting that President Trump executive order 13767 to deploy all lawful means to secure our Nation’s border but then signs Executive Order 13841 to stop his initial order? Trump’s order legislation is becoming somewhat similar to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.

Folks, the United States is critically divided because our President is not committed to stability instead it policy or diplomacy. In fact, the Presidential behavior of Trump has become someone similar to his Twitter feeds. It changes like the wind as to stir and generate so much buzz that we forget about the previous issue. The conversation that should bring us together to work out our policial differences sounds like a moment with Pope Francis. This is where positive LGBT experiences of inclusiveness are met with rug pulled moments. It usually begins where traditional Catholics are not so welcoming followed by a slew of sad commentary and misrepresentations of LGBT people become labeled and divided from membership with their families. At least that is where Americans learned how to become prejudice, in my opinion.

Might I suggest that we leave our political preference at the door when discussing how to repair the nation? For a brief moment, can we forget about our identities and the skin color, religion, or other distinguishable features at the door? Let’s have an open session involving how to fix things rather than what our political platform or religious doctrine says. When I build a table or chair, I don’t need my local politician or priest to discuss or influence how to make it better. It is people that get things done, no different than Dennis Rodman or Jane Fonda. They weren’t elected but at least facilitate to some form of reasonable change. Could we attempt the same path?

We Must Do More For Syria

I could not help but take a moment and think about the people of Syria. There has been a war where innocent civilians have been in the middle of fighting by ISIS, rebels, government forces, and Russian troops. This complex powder keg of ill-planned democracy versus instabilities will not go away anytime soon. Many Syrians have fled, are attempting to escape or still trapped either by bureaucratic red tape and fear based skepticism.

 

The Syrian War has been going on since 2011. What that indicates to me is that a child that manages to survive brutal battles or skirmishes could be a teenager or young adult today. With the American rhetoric about immigrants or refugees that could quickly calculate as a recipe of skeptics towards democracy as for the wealthy or perhaps based on your religious beliefs. After all, it is the remaining male dominated fighters that pass on its beliefs, policies, prejudices, and stories to Syrian youth. Therefore based on that examination the cycle of distrust and conflict will manifest and continue. Eventually, it will come back to possibly haunt us later on.

 

What about the basic health needs of Syrian citizens? No food, no medicine, no mental health providers, no housing, no jobs, no infrastructure, and no education or place of worship are a constant problem. Where does America or those that point fingers at Syria think those children that are born today will be in another ten years during a reconstruction period? What stories will they be told about America and the people of the United States? I am quite confident that the stories won’t be very positive and may lead to additional problems ahead if we sit idle and do nothing to help the nation. What about the health issues? It is only a matter of time before disease and epidemic conditions migrate towards other countries and eventually spread to the United States. Just isolating Syrians is not the answer. Immersing ourselves with compassion and generosity may open more doors of opportunity. Yet, we still do nothing. I fear that Syria will become similar to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

 

Regardless of your political ideology and religious belief. It’s time to step forward and take a greater role of action to help the people of Syria. If we begin today, we can mitigate the potential fallout of the future. Religion, policies, and indifferences are not our enemy; time is our enemy. The longer we wait, the more costly it will become.

Student Conduct is Dangerous

If you ever attended a college or university, you may have heard of student conduct or an office at the college that regulates conduct and conflict resolution. These organizations became a part of the school to mainly deal with arguments in housing, cheating in the classroom and to help reduce underage binge drinking. Over time student conduct offices have morphed into a significant oversight from criminal charges to mental health regulatory affairs. This is where I think there should be a line drawn for such organizations like campus student conduct.

The first problem is Title IX. Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination by sex in any federally funded education program or activity. But like any good law, there is flaws and room for critical error. Title IX allows any student to bypass law enforcement authorities to bring a claim of sexual assault to student conduct. This means that law enforcement is completely out of the picture with no investigation either in process and evidence is not professionally captured or preserved. Instead the Respondent or accused must appear before a student conduct committee, usually run by students, with no lawyers present to defend his/her accusations. This is like somewhat like calling you boss at work to claim that you were sexually assaulted at your desk. The boss will immediately inform the police, human resources, corporate security and other agencies to secure a potential crime scene. Most disturbing about campus student conduct boards is that due process is completely thrown out the window. If the board “believes” the story of the accuser then that’s all it takes to expel a student. That’s right folks, you will have an expelled labeled “sex offender” on campus that is not a sex offender because police were never called or informed about the situation. Another disturbing fact is that if the accuser loses his/her case before student conduct, then they under Title IX be charged with filing a false report. There is a small clause in the title that prohibits this because there no police report was filed. It is an internal matter controlled by inexperienced faculty with no training in law or law certified to practice in a capacity of an administrative judge.

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All I can think about is the Rolling Stone article about Virginia Tech or the Duke Lacross scandal. In each of these scenarios, lives were destroyed because student conduct initially took the lead and police were either not called, or police botched the crime scene because the campus stood in the way of a proper criminal investigation. While Title IX is essential to the protections of fairness, it lacks balance when it comes to sexual violence claims. Instead, universities should immediately engage professional law enforcement authorities at the first indication of sexual assault. A band of self-appointed academics that label themselves as the morality police of student conduct should not be engaged in any serious criminal allegations.

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I have no problems with student conduct providing life examples of proper social conduct on campus. But student conduct should not be involved in slapping wrists over illegal drug activity on campus while people not enrolled or living on campus experience the heavy hand of the law and police. It is nothing more than a double standard of protections and provides a level of inequality and prejudice. Student conduct should only be involved in conflict negotiations, academic cheating, and concern notifications. Student conduct should not be in the business of determining what is criminal versus its ability to pick and choose what it deems it can handle. This opens up universities to massive liabilities and loses the credibility of overall safety and the spirit of the effective due process. A campus cannot be judge, jury, and executioner. But as long as student conduct remains, then that is what it will continue to be.