By: Jeff Colt
I’m the “someone” who suggested that constitutionally questionable laws that address primal fears and reactive tendencies (which Mr. Werblowsky inaccurately describes as “morals”), while legally well-intentioned and emotionally intoxicating, have no place in a society that sets (or purports to, at least) its legal principles according to constitutional prescriptions, and then, seeks to carefully mold them according to the evolving norms, needs, and social pulse of the contextual time period. This, of course, was in regards to a discussion we were having about Megan’s Law, the controversial law that allows law enforcement to publish location and descriptive information about registered sex offenders.
First, in the interest of precision, I never used the term slippery slope when examining the post-incarceration problems of the pedophile. The term slippery slope was in fact offered by someone else, and now, incorrectly attributed to me and repeated in Mr. Werblowsky’s blog entry. As well, the implication of my observation regarding Megan’s Law was not intended as a slippery slope argument, regardless of who used the term.
Nonetheless, I happen to believe in the underlying possibility of what the premise of the slope proposes (for the purposes of other arguments), even if the term itself is ultimately a troubling, overused simplification. Even still, I understand the impractical ability and propensity of slippery slope arguments to short-circuit progressions toward the possible, and then the chance to experiment with new laws and conventions. However, even if a law screams of likely slippery slope-ednessiosity, often it can survive such criticism by the immediate results of the good outweighing the future results of the bad.
Case-in-point: Around the holiday time, police in certain cities set up random road blocks and stop car drivers, inquiring if they’ve had anything to drink. Is it unreasonable search? Maybe. But many cities offset that danger by prohibiting the office to implement the stop, then, say, ticket you for not wearing your seatbelt. Is it instead profiling? If I’m in a car, I’m automatically targeted. So, sure. Maybe. Who cares though, right? For most people, a five minute roadside chat with a cop versus the wastefulness and preventability of drunk driving accidents seems like a small price to pay for the inconvenience, if it keeps their loved ones safe. Now, and just for fun, in that instance the slippery slope argument would be: if you allow them to stop you while you’re coming back from your hard-earned Christmas party at the Galleria Mall’s T.G.I.F, what’s to keep them from stopping you while walking down the street and checking you for an unlicensed handgun? Handguns are dangerous, aren’t they? Especially unlicensed ones. Or maybe they stick only to the alcohol issue. Public intoxication is illegal. And if it isn’t, it’s potential trouble, isn’t it? You could stumble right in front of my car while I’m driving, maybe only minutes after I’ve gone through one of those drunk driving roadblocks, where I was cleared, by the way. Anarchy! Well, actually, the opposite of anarchy, but nevertheless…slippery slope outrage!
No, not to worry, say you slippery slope rejectionists—the government is not in the business of randomly stopping people and checking them for no reason. Except, of course, for those odd tables that are show up at the entrances of certain subway stops, where a line of police officers ask to look in your book bag. For handguns? No. Alcohol? No. I don’t know what they’re looking for, do you? Are they looking for a plane you plan on commandeering for horrific purposes? A worn pair of Nike’s stuffed with C4 explosives? An envelope of slightly used, weaponized anthrax? Check my bag: all you’ll find is a 3-week old Netflix film I keep forgetting to mail, with the postage now more than just slightly worn off the prepaid envelope, which I’m going to drop in the post box anyway. Mail fraud, at best.
Whether you embrace, ignore, or mock my possibly floridly insane rantings regarding the unchecked, irrational, and ever-fearful mindset of the American government and the selected public who refuse to live bravely from one day to the next, I never used the term slippery slope when examining the rationale behind Megan’s Law. Because succumbing to the fears and whims of one group of victims at the expense of the law and justice (yes, I did in fact put those two together because I believe they can co-exist, though here is not where I’ll prove it) is not a slippery slope argument. It’s an argument against the rampant, centralized individualism that is slowly dissolving our country and our society.
My offering in class that day was that that if we allow the fears (even the rational one) of one group of people, in this case, parents who have children who have not been harmed by the released pedophile, or any pedophile for that matter, and the accompanying moralities (even the enviable one) to dictate laws according to these centralized, unrealized fears, we risk diluting the aspiring moralities and then (in respect of the fear lovers), even constricting the more reasonable fears of both competing, and contrasting interests. (Please don’t mentally add in the word yet after the word pedophile in the proceeding sentence. To do so would be positively threat level orange in construction).
Simply put, as wonderful and justified as we feel about “protecting the children” (only a monster doesn’t want to protect children), the law that targets the pedophile that’s been released after serving their sentence places a premium on the concerns and suffering of the victims of that crime only, and worse, yields to people who are afraid of becoming victims of that crime only. What of the general rapist? Doesn’t your girlfriend/sister/mother deserve the same anticipatory protection? What of the violent offender? Don’t your friends deserve to be not randomly selected in a bar by mythically large basketball players and pummeled to near death? What about arsonists? I don’t know about you, but burning to death in a suspicious restaurant fire is not my idea of a peaceful end to a life well-lived.
All actual and potential victims of these crime and subgroups deserve equal protection, not because of the slippery slope, but because each one person deserves and must be attended to and considered of the intimacies of what makes their heart beat fast in the middle of the night. They are all entitled to equal protection from potential abomination. And by they, I mean we. And by we, I would then, in my perfect, centralized universe, mean me. Overall, I think it’s a bad idea.
With that, I propose that a society that fragments itself into subgroups of entitlement is a reduction in societal evolution, not an advancement. Blame the post 9/11 shockwave, or the digital disenfranchisement effect, or even the simple fact that as we run out of room to move and clean air and fresh water and adequate ice shield we’re starting to freak out a little; whatever the reason, few would deny that we’ve all become a little more self-centered than usual (healthy?), and this has exacerbated our proclivity to self-imposed personal space grabbing and intra-xenophobia.
The future, which is right now, has done more than make us fear for our personal safety. It has made us fear each other, our neighbors, our friends and worst of all, ourselves.
I’m not saying that a convicted pedophile is no more of a danger to children than someone who is not a pedophile at all. Of course one is. But I suggest that a convicted pedophile is only as dangerous, and maybe even less so, than a pedophile who has never been caught or convicted—and who might be living next to you right now—and because of that, Megan’s law serves no other purpose than a political one.
Still, this isn’t an essay or answer or solution to the probability of recidivism of pedophiles. It’s not even really meant as position on whether or not Megan’s Law is unconstitutional. The point of what I said in class is this: yes, children should be protected. And so should you. And me. Not because we’re protecting the children first and that’s why I deserve the same slippery slope protection, but because we all, individually, have the same right to protection all the time, Constitution be damned. There is no slope involved. Rather, there are 6.7 billion tiny human pinpoints, one for each of us, all on this round surface called Earth. All of us are—or at least, are supposed to be—at the same level. And evil waits for us all, in equal measure. But then, so does joy.
Still, I don’t live in a black hole of criminal fantasy. I know that different crimes have different punishments based on how we, as a society, view their impact on us as a whole, and as well, they should. To that, certain crimes are by definition more injurious than others. A slap is the face is less onerous than a shovel to the back of the head. But if our legal system is going to have any sense of morality—perhaps the morality that Mr. Werblowsky speaks of—a morality that strives to match the heartbeat of the society that yearns to thrive beyond what it thinks itself capable of, it must not create laws based on fear, but on freedom. And not withstanding all my dreamy rhetoric, Megan’s Law is in no way is meant to reflect societies morality as Mr. Werblowsky suggests, but rather is meant solely to allay the jittery nerves of voting parents, many of whom who watch too much of Dateline’s Too Catch A Predator.
But that’s neither here nor there. You don’t have to convince me that it (our legal system) has, at least lately, done the opposite of fostering justice, morality, or freedom. Ben Franklin had it right; liberty and security are at odds here and I know which I’d rather have. But just because the legal system is not working the way television, media, and the crazy guy I once saw vacuuming a little used pathway in Central Park with an imaginary vacuum one spring told me it should, doesn’t mean that our hopes for a greater morality, and with that, a more enlightened sense of justice should stop being pursued, or worse, discarded. Having said all that, and in effort to spell it out a sub-conclusion with regards to the motivating conversation, to me it’s simple: if you’ve committed a crime, and you’ve served your sentence, you’re free to have the same chance at a new, better life. It may not be a perfect system, but it’s the one we’ve all agreed to…for now. Let’s leave the scarlet letters to literature, where they belong, and that’s all Megan’s Law really is.