By Brenda Jones…..
We at RSOL heard the news on Monday with a sinking despair that could only be topped by the desperation clearly felt by Rhode Island’s Level III registered citizens. In June of 2015, Rhode Island legislators passed a law that would restrict all Level III’s from living within 1000 feet of any school. That’s a 700-foot increase over the previous restriction. The article reported on how registrants were in shock – although most had known this was coming – begging for more time to find a new place to live, fearing or indeed facing homelessness as a result of this law.
We connected with the ACLU and will continue to work with them to the best of our abilities. They are doing all they can. But with so little time remaining, there will not be much that can be done for those who face arrest if they do not comply and homelessness if they do. Our hearts go out to all of them.
Where, you may ask, was RSOL when this bill was being considered, when it was presented in the legislature, when it was voted into law? RSOL is only as strong as its state-level volunteers. They are our eyes and ears, our boots on the ground. And we have NO volunteers in Rhode Island. Not even any members.
So really the question is, where were the registrants?
Yes, the ACLU was there talking about civil rights. Reentry experts were there with evidence about the ineffectiveness of such restrictions; advocates for the homeless were there talking about how destabilizing such a law would be. Even the public defender’s office was represented in opposition to the legislation. But as far as we can tell, there were none of the people who would actually be impacted.
Where were the registrants? Where were their families?
Our past experience says they were at home, totally unaware of what was going on in their capital, thinking, “It isn’t so bad here. Let’s not rock the boat.” Or maybe they knew about it but said that it couldn’t POSSIBLY apply to THEM, and anyway, they weren’t good speakers, they were too busy working or looking for work to take time off to go to their capital, or they figured a letter to their national representatives or the president would help. (It doesn’t, not at all.)
Folks, NO registered citizen is ever truly safe in this country. There is NO state without at least a few lawmakers ready to jump on the bandwagon to crush the stereotypical monsters such bills inevitably target. Rhode Island lawmakers also introduced a version of the Adam Walsh Act. Fortunately, that bill did NOT pass
It is up to each and every one of us to ALWAYS remain vigilant.
What can a registrant do? What can a family member or friend do?
As our California affiliate is fond of saying, Show up; Stand up; Speak up.
RSOL needs Advocates in EVERY state. That means registrants and family members IN that state need to step up and volunteer. RSOL Advocates learn about their existing state sexual offense laws. If they don’t know already, they learn how bills are introduced and how to track them when they are introduced. And they make time to go to their state capital and SAY something when bad bills are introduced.
You don’t have to be a legal expert. You don’t have to be a gifted orator. Your greatest strength will be YOUR particular impact statement.
When residency restrictions were introduced in Maryland, a handful of us were there. There had been a ton of bills heard that day; it was late and we were all exhausted. When I took a turn, I had maps (something none of the experts had thought to bring, apparently, either in Maryland or Rhode Island). I told the legislators that all those experts had spoken the truth, but pictures speak louder. I held up my maps, showing almost no place to live except underpasses. “So where are they going to go?” I demanded? “Where do you expect them all to go?” The bill died in committee. (Even the folks who didn’t care about registrants decided they didn’t want a bunch of homeless sex offenders camping in their rural communities.)
We can NEVER rest in this task. The Haters will always be out there, looking for opportunities. Even if the registry is struck down, we must continue our vigilance. Where there is hate, there will be those seeking to cause new harm.
Please, get up from your safe place. Show up. Stand up. Speak up.
Your life depends on it.