|By Shelly Stow|
We either live in a civilized nation or we don't. Our legal and judicial system, based on the time-honored premise that one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law as drawn from the 5th amendment, either means something or it doesn't. Either our laws are in place to protect the guilty as well as the innocent or they aren't. Our laws and our Constitution either stand for all, or they stand for none.
Once before our country stood balanced on the precipice of injustice becoming the norm, at a time when, in a large portion of the nation, people of color were accorded few if any civil or human rights and were regarded as being, literally, worth less than one of Caucasian ancestry. We managed to draw back from that precipice, but today we stand at yet another, and this one may succeed in destroying us where the other did not.
We have created another monster to fear, another whose life is worth less than any other not in the same classification--the "sex offender." I put it in quotes not to make light of those sexual crimes that cause harm to others but to show that it has become a clearly defined, easily identifiable sub-category of Americans. A "sex offender" is anyone on a sex offender registry for any reason, for crimes great and small, and ranging in age from nine to ninety. Violations of civil and human rights visited upon a sex offender are somehow okay. One would not wear that label were he not deserving of the vilest treatment.
Therefore, when, in Washington state, a hate-crazed vigilante with a gun shot and murdered a man who was on the sex offender registry for consensual teenage sex fifteen years ago, a man who was now a husband and breadwinner and father of two little boys, the "fans" of the killer called him a "hero" on blogs and comment boards and said he should be released from custody so he could continue doing "God's work."
And now that Patrick Drum has received a sentence of life without parole for that murder in Washington, once again the comments on articles are praising his action and defending his murder spree as justified because of who he chose to murder, a “sex offender.” One commenter called for his release and an apology from the government.
And, in South Carolina, a man who may or may not have raped a teenager was shot down in the street, and the comment boards overflowed with praise for whoever murdered him. Those making the comments became judge, jury, and executioner, for they pronounced him guilty, passed sentence, and in every way but taking hand to gun, put him to death without a second’s hesitation.
Men have murdered entire families, sometimes their own, and been given a fair trial. Men have murdered heads of state and been accorded their rights under the law. Men have committed the most atrocious of war crimes, annihilating thousands upon thousands, and have been treated with basic decency as they faced their accusers in court.
But none of those men were “sex offenders.” None of those men lived in twenty-first century America bearing a label that marks them as one who is to be accorded no rights, no decency, no fairness, one who has no right to claim the most basic of all rights, that of innocence until guilt is proven.
The precipice gapes and widens, and its message is this: if our laws do not protect those judged to be the least deserving among us, then they do not protect any of us.
Shelly Stow is a member of Reform Sex Offender Laws [RSOL] and Texas Voices, the Texas affiliate of National RSOL.
Other articles by Stow
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