A Letter To Barack Obama: Virginia, RSOL

Dear President Obama:

When you took office you promised to give a voice to the voiceless. You spoke of the audacity of hope. You promised to include those often forgotten and despised. I am appealing to you honor those promises now.

This past weekend you appeared on a television show called America's Most Wanted. You met with the show's creator on national television and listened to him call for yet more laws designed to get tough on crime. As you know, John Walsh is a tireless advocate for crime victims. He lost his own son to murder decades ago.

Immediately after appearing on America's Most Wanted, you were contacted by a group called Virginia Reform Offender Laws. The group asked for a meeting to talk about a class of victims who have no media spokesperson and who garner little sympathy. Members of the group would like to sit down and discuss with you the other America, those stigmatized for life as a result of conduct that often wasn't even criminal a century ago. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans living in fear of the shadows cast by laws that fail to draw meaningful distinctions between those who are a risk of future harm and the overwhelming majority of folks who simply make mistakes.

John Walsh and America's Most Wanted are powerful tools in what is often an hysterical over-reaction to isolate acts of horror. When a young woman is abducted, raped and murdered by a stranger, the nation rightly grieves. But tapping that grief for purposes of stiffing moral panic poorly serves the nation. Many of us were surprised that you agreed to appear on a television show that panders in fear and unresolved rage.

Virginia's, Reform Sex Offender Laws cannot offer you a national forum. There is no television show dedicated to Americans forgotten and scorned by the criminal justice system. But these other Americans are organizing in each and every state in the union to educate lawmakers that the sex offender hysteria is destroying lives. Virginia's group is among the most sophisticated in the nation: In recent weeks, the group has provided lawmakers in Virgina with a recent publication about the weaknesses in our laws regarding sex offenses.

The other America still looks to you for leadership, Mr. President. When the Virginia group called the White House earlier in the week to request a meeting, a promise was made to convey the request and to get back to the group. I am urging you to take a little time to sit down with representatives and hear what they have to say. You can still make a difference for the voiceless folks looking to you for hope. Please do not scorn them. That is the easy and convenient response. But it is a response that fails to look beyond appearances.


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