Quick, what’s more bathetic than a sack of drowned kittens?
Why, it’s the Sex-Offenders-Under-the-Bridge in Miami. Again. In Time this time. Apparently, it’s just not possible to guilt the fourth estate into covering this issue factually (see here, here, and here for my prior posts). Is some defense attorney running a tour bus for gullible reporters to guarantee a steady supply of this melodrama? If so, I wish they’d take a side trip to go shopping for new adjectives:
The Julia Tuttle Causeway is one of Miami’s most beautiful bridge spans, connecting the city to Miami Beach through palm-tree-filled islands fringed with red mangroves. But beneath the tranquil expanse sits one of South Florida’s most contentious social problems: a large colony of convicted sex offenders, thrown into homelessness in recent years by draconian residency restrictions that leave them scant available or affordable housing. They live in tents and shacks built from cast-off supplies, clinging to pylons and embankments, with no running water, electricity or bathrooms.
Draconian . . . clinging to pylons . . . tranquil expanse . . . it’s beginning to sound like a Simpsons episode. And then, there is the embarrassing failure to fact-check:
Miami is hardly the only place in the U.S. where registered sex offenders can’t find shelter. In Georgia, a group living in tents in the woods near Atlanta was recently ordered out of even that refuge.
Oh, please. “[O]rdered out of even that refuge.” Cue to violins. That’s not what happened. The county spent taxpayer resources arranging housing for them, just as they spend taxpayer money to address all their needs. Didn’t the Time reporter bother to speak to county officials?
Press releases from activist organizations are not facts.
Here’s a better way to describe the “homeless sex offender” drama in its entirety: inspired by the Miami story, reporters coast to coast set out to comb bridges and underpasses, eagerly seeking encampments of homeless sex offenders. Lightening their trip by jettisoning the heavy burden of objectivity, they finally stumbled upon a handful of men shacked up in the woods outside Marietta, Georgia — living there for about five minutes while other housing was being found for them. Included in the group was a particularly violent child abuser who had been booted from his last taxpayer-subsidized dwelling because he couldn’t be bothered to pay a token bit of rent (he, of course, was the one being represented by a “civil rights” group suing the rest of us for failing to provide him with more free housing after he screwed up the last handout). Plus there were a few other child molesters crying poverty and misrepresenting their convictions to the gullible gal Friday sent to interview them. Meanwhile, nobody really noticed the hundreds of sex offenders living nearby in perfectly legal housing, just like nobody noticed the thousands of non-homeless sex offenders in Miami.
Other than the Miami encampment and the blink-of-an-eye Atlanta thing, the only other reported sighting of a homeless sex offender was by the New York Times’ Dan Barry, and that was entirely accidental: Barry didn’t realize that the manipulative old coot he was slavishly profiling was actually an absconded child rapist . . . because he didn’t do a simple thirty-second online fact-check to confirm any part of the man’s sob story. Ouch.
Of course, the media’s failure to actually find more homeless sex offenders (let alone homeless sex offenders whose homelessness can be vaguely attributed to living restriction laws) did nothing to quell their passion for the story.
Anyway, back to the latest breathless confabulation:
But the Miami shantytown, with as many as 70 residents, is the largest of its kind [make that the only one of its kind], thanks to a frenzied wave of local laws passed in Florida after the grisly 2005 rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford by a convicted sex offender. The state had already been the first to enact residency rules for convicted predators, barring them in 1995 from living within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and other children’s sites. Municipalities, with questionable authority, then adopted even tougher ordinances — there are 156 of them so far. Miami Beach, for example, bars offenders from living within 2,500 feet of all school-bus stops, effectively precluding them from living anywhere in the city.
Not true, not true, and not true. Consistency: not always a virtue. A “frenzied wave of local laws”? What kind of reporting is that? Frenzied? Is the public “frenzied,” or did elected officials pass laws in response to public concerns about child rapists living incognito in homeless shelters and on the streets, in poor neighborhoods, among children who often lack supervision?
Note to self, Reporter Skipp: two courts have ruled that, in fact, the authority of the municipality in question is not “questionable”: that’s your opinion, and your opinion hardly belongs in a purported news story now, does it? Particularly with no mention of the fact that, when challenged by the well-heeled lawyers from the side you’re on, the county won in court. Twice. Who died and made you a judge in Miami-Dade County anyway? You are supposed to be a journalist. This is supposed to be a news story. Go read the court rulings. Then report them. Easy, right?
And are these men really homeless because they’re sex offenders? How many had housing prior to their convictions? How many assaulted a child in the last place they lived, with relatives or girlfriends, and that’s the real reason they’re on the streets now? “Effectively precluding them from living anywhere in the city”? Wrong again. Thousands of other sex offenders are housed throughout the city. What’s wrong with these particular men? And what does the ordinance actually say? Reporting on this story has been shamefully devoid of such facts.
Could it be that the bridge-dwellers are sexually violent drunks and druggies who would be homeless anyway, especially as many of them have long records of other crimes that would make anyone choose to reject them as tenants? Could it be they’re cleverly playing journalists like violins in the interest of advancing their lawsuit against the city, and busking up the federal handout they’ve been promised? Do they, like so many homeless we shower with resources, prefer to live rough rather than avail themselves of taxpayer-subsidized housing that comes with some behavioral strings and a move away from their old stomping grounds?
And what happened to all that federal funding (our tax dollars) slated to be thrown at this trumped-up problem six months ago?
This tiny minority of Miami-Dade’s sex offenders who are living under the bridge are the only ones responsible for their own homelessness and the persistence of the encampment. Some are staying on because they are suing the city, of course. You know, that “questionable authority” place across the water?
Ah, but who cares? The academics have arrived to assist the lawyers suing the city, armed with their trumped-up research about how living restrictions cause rapists to do more rapin’. None of this can actually be proven, of course, but that doesn’t stop certain politicians from repeating the claim, over and over and over again:
“The safety of Floridians has suffered as local politicians have tried to one-up each other with policies that have resulted in colonies of homeless sex offenders left to roam our streets,” says state senator Dave Aronberg, a Democrat running for state attorney general.
Has it really? Are sex offenders really “roaming the streets” more because they’re being watched? How does that work? Prior to living restriction and registry laws, all sex offenders were free to “roam the streets” with impunity: to say that more do so now due to rules against such behavior is just intellectually dishonest.
Also intellectually dishonest? Not getting a quote from someone who disagrees with the claims you’re pushing as fact in what’s supposed to be an objective news story. You know, reporting both sides of a contentious issue? Whatever happened to that?
Incidentally, the very last thing Florida needs is an A.C.L.U.-style Attorney General who spouts inane anti-incarceration propaganda at the drop of a hat.
To actually report this story, which not one journalist has done, you have to consider the offense patterns of this small group of men and others offenders like them. Where did they find their victims? Should society allow them to go back to identical circumstances?
To make the claim that living restriction laws threaten public safety, you have to compare recidivism rates before and after living restrictions were put in place. And nobody has done that, either. In fact, they cannot do it, because child molestation (the law in Florida applies to child molesters, not that you would know that from the news) so rarely gets reported, let alone reported in a timely manner.
Recidivism is nearly impossible to measure in a system where the vast majority of serial offenders, especially those who start as juveniles, are permitted to plead down to single offenses or non-sex crime charges. So there are many things we cannot know. Researchers claiming that they can isolate a specific cause-and-effect relationship between criminal behavior and the existence of these laws are just churning out propaganda in the service of activists who are looking for ways to pad their lawsuits.
No matter what David Aronberg claims.
Here’s an example of the type of research claims now being made by activists:
Research by agencies like the Minnesota Department of Corrections has found that a stable home is the strongest guarantor of sound post-incarceration behavior among sex offenders.
Well, of course it is. It’s also the type of self-selecting factor that makes research conclusions suspect in the first place. Having a “stable home” to go back to means you’re among the cohort of offenders who haven’t utterly bollocked every aspect of your life, or engaged in such chaotic and violent behavior that you had no stability to begin with and nothing left to lose. It means you haven’t raped your own kids and thus can’t go home (hopefully, it means that). It means you aren’t so addicted or psychopathic or mentally disorganized or impulsive or violent or lazy that you won’t follow the rules for the housing you’ve been offered.
By the taxpayers, including rape victims who pay taxes and are thus frequently forced to pay their own rapists’ rent. A little gratitude would be attractive, instead of all this carping.
Academics take obvious insights like ‘offenders with stable lives are more stable’ and mutate them into policy arguments against monitoring offenders. This is politics disguised as research. And don’t think they’ll stop when they overturn living restrictions; the ultimate goal of the pro-sex offender movement is to do away with registration itself, so offenders can slip back into anonymity once they’ve served the six months (or mere probation) that still passes for punishment for many child molestation convictions.
It’s worth asking why reporters continually get so snowed by myths — like the claim that living restriction laws are magically forcing sex offenders to re-offend when they wouldn’t do so otherwise. I think it’s the consequence of a mindset that refuses to contemplate, or write about, the existence of the crime itself. They see the criminal, and empathize, but work hard to deny the existence of his victims. Consequently, the thing that’s missing from all the extensive coverage of the “homeless sex offenders” is their crimes, as if these men are just people who have been randomly and unfairly designated “sex offenders” and sent to live under a bridge. How can we even begin to have a conversation about the efficacy of these laws when reporters refuse to include any discussion of the types of crimes the men committed, and might commit again, in their stories? Once we’re done reading about the lean-tos, and the slap of the waves, and the extension cords snaking through the encampment, could we possibly talk about child rape for a moment?
I once had a reporter tell me that he didn’t choose to write about an offender’s crime if he has “paid his debt to society.” That’s risible. We don’t write sentencing laws in order to let reporters feel that cinnamonny rush of self-esteem for opposing them; reporters shouldn’t cover crime policy without including the subject of . . . crime.
So, despite all the award-winning coverage of the view of the unjust sunset from under the Julia Tuttle Bridge, we haven’t really begun discussing the real issue, which is this: considering these men’s actual records and our continuing extreme leniency in sentencing, which settings pose the most risk for re-offense? The last homeless shelter where they stalked vulnerable runaways? Their ex-girlfriend’s apartment, where they raped their last six-year old victim? Enough with the drama about pitiful child maulers: what works?
The men under the bridge are neither heroes nor victims; most would probably be homeless anyway, and it is grotesque that activists posing as journalists continue to trumpet their cause in editorials disguised as new stories and devoid of even the most basic facts.