Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This story just fills me with rage.
Until last week, Big Man was serving a four-year sentence for cocaine possession. A few days ago, he was looking forward to leaving prison and reuniting with his wife, until he got the news: Instead of going home, he'd be living under a bridge, a parole commission officer told him. That's because 23 years ago, when he was 19 years old, Big Man was charged with sexual assault on a minor. (He claims the victim was his girlfriend and that it was consensual.)
In March, New Times revealed the Florida Department of Corrections was housing sex offenders under an overpass near the county courthouse; the state responded by moving the men here. The reason: A 2005 county ordinance prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any school, so nearly the entire county has become off-limits to them.
The story was picked up by national media outlets, and for a few weeks the bridge was a source of widespread disbelief. Statements were made, resolutions were passed, letters were sent — but nothing changed. Since then, much to the relief of local politicians, no doubt, the situation seems to have quietly faded from public memory.
But the numbers kept growing. More than 30 men have been sent to live here in the intervening months. A few have since left — the majority of them arrested for minor violations of probation, two or three were able to move out, and two have disappeared. But most — as of press time, at least 20 — remain under the bridge, even though many have families willing to house them. Everyone agrees the situation under the Julia Tuttle has become untenable, but so far neither local politicians, nor the courts, nor the state legislature have been willing to do anything about it.
It gets worse. When confronted with the situation, local officials respond with indifference:
Commissioner Sosa refuses to revisit the ordinance. "I feel that I helped create a solution," she insists. Asked if she knows how many men are living under the bridge, she answers, "Yes, many.
"I guess that at some point, the system will have to address that issue," she concedes with vague cheerfulness. "But I am not ready to address that issue. Maybe another commissioner should address that issue.... Your question is: Am I going to do something? The answer is no."
Or outright glee:
Two years ago, Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer successfully pushed an ordinance that prohibited sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of any school in his city — two and a half times farther than the state law's distance, which already prohibited offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers, and playgrounds.
The ordinance came at a time when states across the nation were cracking down on sex offenders in the wake of the horrific rape and murder of nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Homosassa, Florida, by John Couey, a 47-year-old drifter with a criminal history of child molestation. Mayor Dermer intended his ordinance to set the high water mark, and it did. In a city surrounded by water and barely a mile wide at its thickest, the 2,500-foot ordinance effectively made Miami Beach the first city in America to exile sex offenders — a fact Dermer has acknowledged proudly.
So basically, these people are homeless by law. Several of them actually have houses they could live in, were it not for the ordnance. They've all essentially paid their debt to society, at least as far as the prison system is concerned. So once again we're at the question: why can't we just treat them like human beings? Why do Mayor Dermer and Commissioner Sosa persist in the belief that abusing people is the way to get them to behave? Why don't they just send a task force of police down their to shoot them all and put them out of their misery? It's clearly what they want, but lack the moral courage to do, because like all petty thugs in positions of power, they lack the spine to act on their wishes.
Truly, some of the men are seriously creepy, like the old guy who fondles little girls. But I honestly don't see how forcing him to sleep under a bridge is helping the situation in any way. If he's dangerous and you catch him at it, shoot him or lock him up. There's no value in this legalized abuse.
Posted by Tom, 12/19/2007 6:04:45 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...