Friday, June 09, 2006

Everyone Has Rights, Even Sinclair Executives

What if I told you that a man who was a known pornographer, whoremonger, and who had been convicted of committing an unnatural and perverted sex act with a prostitute was moving into your town. Should such a man be allowed to wander the public parks where innocent children play?

You might conjure up an image of a dirty old man in a battered trench coat, a few missing teeth, ugly tattoos, and a scraggly beard. You’d understandably be concerned about such a person being anywhere near your kids.

But what if I told you this same man was a successful businessman, was married and had a family, and was in fact what most people would consider a pillar of his community? Would such a man, even given his past transgressions, be forever barred from taking a stroll with his wife through a city park?

I don’t know what your answer to this would be. The point is that it’s not a black and white issue.
In his latest editorial, Hyman again goes after the ACLU, this time for filing a lawsuit on behalf of a registered sex offender who is challenging a North Carolina state law that bans all registered sex offenders from being anywhere near a public park. Hyman, predictably, calls the ACLU the “Anti-Child Litigation Union” for sticking up for the rights of people convicted of sex crimes.

But Hyman presents a false dilemma: stand up for individual rights OR protect kids. That’s nonsense.

I think we can all agree that anyone convicted of molesting a child deserves not only a long, long time in prison, but also needs some major psychological treatment and an extremely short leash if/when they are on parole. In such cases, reasonable restrictions that keep such people a safe distance from children, but still allow them to live their lives after they’ve fulfilled their sentences are understandable.

But in the mania to “protect the kids,” politicians have taken the easy way out by often passing sweeping and impractical laws about where anyone convicted of a sex crime can live or work. Rather than working on instituting better treatment and parole options by funding the criminal justice system better, they pass laws that sound good when stumping for votes, but which often don’t do much to actually safeguard children, and trample the rights of people who have earned a right to try to get their life in order.

Often included on official state registries of sex offenders along with the archetypal dirty old man who molests children are people who are teenagers themselves who had sex with a boyfriend or girlfriend under the age of consent. Others committed offenses that didn’t merit any jail time. Others committed crimes involving adults, and have shown no predilection to target children. Still others actually *have* received treatment and are considered by experts to be of low risk to reoffend. Such people are not innocent, and deserve to face justice. But once they’ve done that, it’s not fair to tar them with the wide brush of “potential child molester” has the potential to be unfair.

Hyman himself agrees that it’s not fair to take away the rights of individuals simply because the larger community thinks it’s okay. How many times as he decried the abuse of “eminent domain,” the process by which a community can confiscate the property of a private citizen (supposedly with adequate compensation) in order to better the lives of the other residents (such as condemning a residential building in order to build a new road or to create a downtown shopping area).

The same balancing act is at work in this issue. The fact that it involves the emotional issue of sex crimes and children doesn’t do away with that.

As is typical, the ACLU is arguing in favor of individual rights for a party that is not terribly sympathetic. But then again, that’s exactly the point. When the ACLU argued that Nazis should be allowed to march through a Jewish neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois, it wasn’t doing so because it was anti-Semitic or pro-Nazi. It did it because freedom of speech and freedom to peaceably assemble don’t mean anything if you don’t stand up for the rights of the most despised groups to share these rights. To suggest that the ACLU is somehow anti-child or pro-sexual abuse because it is challenging hopelessly vague legislation written to please voters more than to protect children is incredibly crass and a sign of a complete lack of argumentative skill.

Of course, maybe Hyman’s right. Maybe any law that protects kids from sexual abuse is good, no matter who else gets caught up in its web. If so, why don’t we make sexual predator laws even more strict, so that anyone convicted of a sexual crime of any sort is not allowed to walk in the park or take their kids to school?

That would mean that Hyman’s boss, Sinclair president David Smith, would not be able to spend a sunny afternoon picnicking in a Baltimore park or drive his grandchildren to school. After all, he is a former blackmarket porn dealer and a whoremonger, convicted of committing an “unnatural and perverted sex act” with a prostitute. Of course, he’s not on the Maryland state sex offenders list. But if any of the films he sold featured someone under the age of 18, or if he ever solicited sex from a 17-year-old streetwalker (and given the fact that he is reported to have done plenty of trolling for prostitutes beyond the one time he got caught, it’s likely he has), then he *should* be on that list, legally speaking.

Is David Smith likely to molest children? I sort of doubt it. Being a pervert and a mogul of an evil media empire don’t by themselves make you the sort of person who would sexually assault an 8-year-old child. But then again, the individual the ACLU is representing isn't likely to do that either. He was convicted of an assault against an adult nearly 20 years ago, and has completed all required treatment.

But maybe people like Smith *should* be banned from any place children congregate, if we’re going to be extra safe. I suppose it’s a debatable issue. And if the Maryland legislature passes a law outlawing all sexual offenders from being in a public park, I’m sure the ACLU will come to his defense, not because they like him, or because they have “no compassion for the safety of our children” (to use Hyman’s phrase) but because even someone like David Smith deserves to have his rights defended.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.80


At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for pointing out the glaring hypocrisy of Sinclair's spokesman.

Did you also know that David Smith talked the authorities (in his prostitution case) to avoid stiffer penalties by having other's do his bidding? Specifically Smith did a plea bargain in which he required his stations to air extra public-service adverstisements.

Ah, the perks of being wealthy. Just as in the cases of Rush Limbaugh (who was able to spend millions on lawyers) and Bill O'Reilly (who spent unknown sums of cash to settle his sexual harassment suit), justice can be bought.

Hooray for the ACLU (whatever childish way in which Hyman spells it out) in its support of those with much less means.

As you've noted elsewhere, those terrible lawyers and the ACLU have supported many republican defendents (perjurer ollie north, for one).

Funny (no, not funny) how Hyman picks and chooses his argments.

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At issue is an ordinance banning registered sex offenders from the town's three public parks. The law was enacted after a 16-year old girl was raped in a park and after a pedophile living in property overlooking a park had molested several children. Child sexual predators often frequent locations popular with children. The ACLU sued this western North Carolina town of 6,000 on behalf of a registered sex offender, who was convicted of attempted sexual battery with a handgun, and is now demanding access to the parks. One of the busiest parks is adjacent to an elementary school, which uses the park for recess.

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Herbert Birdsfoot said...

The bigger issue regarding banning sex offenders from various public places is deciding whether you want to create an effective means to prevent these crimes from happening again, or whether you want to create a policy that, while punishing the offender, does very little to prevent them from offending again. The rash of bans on where sex offenders can go really isn't going to do much to protect children. Would you recognize a sex offender at the park? Do you think a law banning them from the park will act as a deterrent when laws banning molestation clearly do not? Child molestation is a serious crime and the prison terms for convicts should be sufficiently long to keep them away from the public so that potential victims are genuinely protected. (I'm talking about real child molesters here, not a teen-ager who had sex with a slightly younger teen-ager, etc.)

The ACLU has a legitimate argument because these laws that essentially let the public serve as angry mob justice should be categorized as cruel and unusual punishment. There is no exception in the constitution allowing cruel and unusual punishment for really bad crimes. The simple and effective solution is to make the prison terms proportional to the severity of the crime.

What is the goal? Protect the public, or get revenge?

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Longer prison terms have been proposed, but people who are soft on criminals and hold a naive belief in rehabilitation for such crimes have opposed legislation calling for harsher penalty.

At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Herbert Birdsfoot said...

Could you provide an example of legislation for longer prison terms for child molesters (that's child molesters, not pot smokers) that has been blocked by naive people who are soft on crime?

At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try Jessica's Law, there have been objections.;read=86242

"We have three states where a block in their local senate have been able to block the common call to pass the laws."

Despite his job as Chair of the Assembly's Public Safety Committee, Leno's positions have lead to accusations of him being "soft on crime." For example, after he opposed a version of the Jessica Lunsford Act, he was widely rebuked by conservatives, who alleged that he was "a danger to society" and "a friend of child pornography."

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Herbert Birdsfoot said...

I don't see any explanation in the first article for why the initiative failed in Oregon, but my guess is it is because the bill contains mandatory sentencing instead of sentencing guidelines. I am not a lawyer, but I know that other serious crimes can result in stiff penalties with sentencing guidelines rather than mandatory sentencing. The next two articles only seem to reiterate that such measures have failed but don't give specific reasons.

The fourth article is the most informative. I'm glad you provided that one because it illustrates some of the points I am trying to make. Apparantly there was some pretty severe criticism of CA assemblyman Mark Leno for authoring an alternative to Jessica's Law.

"Leno's bill also toughens sentences for several sex crimes, but does not include the residency requirement and includes a mandate that the state prison system provide prevention treatment for sex offenders, something it does not do now."

His bill calls for longer sentences, but not the residency requirements, which is exactly what I described earlier. This is one of reasons I have such a problem with the right. We keep getting these laws from republicans that sound tough, but just aren't effective. So many of the high profile cases of crimes against children involve a perpetrator who was already on the sex offender registry. The residency requirements clearly do not work. But when somebody like Leno proposes tougher sentences instead, he is villified as soft on crime.

"Leno, author of an alternative to a "Jessica's Law" ballot initiative backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been called a danger to society and a friend of child pornography during the past week. It was also suggested in a political newsletter that he may be brain damaged after inhaling all of that secondhand marijuana smoke wafting through the streets of his hometown."

At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, folks,

This is an interesting conversation.

I appreciate all who have been involved in the latest, substantive, back and forth.


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