Category: Social Media

Vigilantes Aren’t Heroes; They’re Criminals

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

I was recently lectured by someone on social media who felt compelled to defend vigilantes who target sex offenders. He claimed that “vigilante” was some sort of badge of honor, and that no vigilante would ever harm innocent people. He then qualified that statement by adding, “And if they did, they wouldn’t be vigilantes any more. So, you’re using the term incorrectly.”

I beg to differ.

First, he’s obviously confusing what he thinks they’re supposed to be doing with what they actually do. That’s a little like saying, “Cops aren’t supposed to kill innocent people. And if they do, they aren’t cops anymore. So, you can’t say cops kill innocent people!” Au contraire, my friend!

They do, and I can. You don’t get to change the meanings of words in the middle of a murder, just so you can absolve yourself of any moral responsibility or legal complicity. Sure, the English language is wonderfully flexible and evolving, but that’s abusing your parlance privileges.

Let’s start with the history and meaning of the word vigilante. That way, at the very least, we can proceed with a common definition of the word. Consider this, from the Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Vigilante entered English in the 19th century, borrowed from the Spanish word of the same spelling which meant “watchman, guard” in that language. The Spanish word can be traced back to the Latin vigilare, meaning “to keep awake.” The earliest use of the word in English was to refer to a member of a vigilance committee, a committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily, as when the processes of law appear inadequate. The word may often be found in an attributive role, as in the phrases “vigilante justice,” or “vigilante group.” In this slightly broadened sense it carries the suggestion of the enforcement of laws without regard to due process or the general rule of law.

In short, a vigilante is someone who operates outside of the law. That, alone, should be enough for most discerning individuals to identify them as what they are: criminals. Unfortunately, for others, it’s all a matter of semantics.  One man’s “freedom fighter” is another man’s “terrorist.”

Perhaps the real answer lies in examining their actions, rather than in how they wish to redefine certain words to fit their self-serving and conspicuously inflated self-regard as “avenging angels,” supposedly acting on the behalf of innocent children who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of “perverts and pedophiles.” Let’s start with a few of the murders committed by these “angels.”

In 2005, two men were murdered by a vigilante impersonating an FBI agent in Bellingham, WA. The registrants, Hank Eisses, 49, and Victor Vasquez, 68, were shot and killed by Michael Anthony Mullen, who was later convicted and sentenced to 44 years in prison.

In 2006, 20-year old Stephan Marshall, a self-styled vigilante using the sex offender registry as a hit list, shot and killed 57-year old Joseph Gray in his living room in front of his wife while they watched TV in their home in Milo, Maine. Several hours later in Corinth, Maine, Marshall knocked on William Elliott’s front door and shot him dead in front of his girlfriend. Later, he took a bus to Boston, where he committed suicide when approached by the police.

In September 2012, self-styled Washington state vigilante Patrick Drum was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of two registrants, Gary Lee Blanton, 28, and Jerry Wayne Ray, 57, who were fatally shot in June of that year. Drum told police investigators that that he was targeting sex offenders specifically and planned to continue doing so until he was caught.

couple
Jermy & Christine Moody in court

In May 2014, Jeremy Moody, 30, and his wife, Christine Moody, 36, told a sentencing judge in Union, SC they murdered Charles “Butch” Parker, 59, and his wife, Gretchen Parker, 51, because he was a “pervert” and because his wife supported him. The murderers, who were described as neo-Nazis who were part of a white-supremacist group called Crew 41, recalled telling Charles Parker “I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester.” Charles was shot in the neck and chest and then stabbed multiple times. Gretchen was shot in the chest and also stabbed multiple times. As Christine Moody left court she said, “My lawyer made me say that I repented. It was a lie.” She added, “I have no regrets. Killing that pedophile was the best day of my life.” As they were being led out of the courthouse, Christine was asked if she had anything to say to the family of the murdered couple. “May they die also,” she said before officers placed her in the back of a squad car.

In December 2017, Nathaniel Henry, a 37-year old London resident, went to the home of Noel Brown, a 69-year old U.K. registrant and killed him. He dismembered the body and carried the limbs out the front door in a backpack, making multiple trips to do so. The limbs were never found. The police believe Henry was interrupted at some point by Brown’s daughter Marie, who was 41-years old and a mother of two children, so he killed her too.

In January 2018, registrant John Haig Marshall was attacked in his own home in Redondo Beach, CA as he stepped out of the shower. He was tortured with pliers and bolt cutters, and then killed by blunt force trauma to the head by four attackers. The men – Taylor J. Cervantes, Tyler L. Stark, Myles J. Sawyer, and his brother, Brandon S. Takeo Sawyer – were charged with felony counts of murder, conspiracy to commit burglary, first-degree burglary with a person present, and home-invasion robbery.

Also, in January 2018, a Sabine Parish, LA man named Blake Joseph Kendall, 39, was arrested for the vigilante killings of two registrants, Jerry W. Scott, 72, of Many, LA and Adam L. Jeter, 34, of Zwolle, LA.  Scott was killed by a single shot through the storm door of his mobile home, hitting Scott in the upper chest and killing him instantly. Jeter was shot four times while inside his vehicle as he checked his mailbox in front of his home.

One more for January 2018: Michael Thompson, a Las Vegas, NV resident admitted to police that he killed a homeless man named Alfred Wilhelm, 53, because he was a sex offender, and a bystander named Rhonda Ballow, 27, because “she refused to leave.”  He explained that “he had been sexually assaulted as a child and took offense to sex offenders.”

In February 2018, registrant Demetrius Graves, 39, was found stabbed to death in Pasco, WA just days after sheriff’s deputies put out a press release announcing his release into the community. His alleged killer Hector Orozco Jr., 42, was captured hours later at a nearby Rodeway Inn.

In March of 2018 in Osceola County, Florida, a man named Jorge Porto-Sierra was arrested for trying to kill four people, two of which were sex offenders, by setting them on fire. Witnesses told deputies that Porto-Sierra made several threats, screaming “I’m going to kill you, child molester,” and began throwing gasoline on their front door.

And let’s not forget all of the people who are assaulted or killed because they were mistaken for registrants, or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time while vigilantes were “protecting the community.”

In Bithlo, FL, 78-year old Hugh Edwards was beaten to death with a black Louisville Slugger baseball bat because the killer – Robert Pascale, 20 – mistakenly thought the man was a sex offender.

In Bakersfield, CA, the murder of Roderick White may be connected to comments and Facebook rumors alleging that the 32-year-old was a child molester. Investigators have found no indication that he was, in fact, a registrant.

In 2014, Walter Field, 48, of Depot Road, NH answered a knock at the door at 8:30 p.m. He said the attacker asked for the next-door neighbor – who is a registrant – and then assaulted Field with an unknown object when he was told he had the wrong house. He was taken to the hospital, where he required extensive facial reconstructive surgery. The same assailant, still working off of a sex offender hit list, is believed to have shot and killed David Wheelock in his wheelchair after he answered a knock at the front door of his Keene, NH home.

acid-attackIn 2014, a vigilante in the U.K. attacked Andreas Christopheros, 32, by throwing highly concentrated sulfuric acid into his face in the mistaken belief that he was a registered sex offender because he was at the wrong address. Over 90% of Christopheros’ face has had to be reconstructed surgically as a result.

For every vigilante attack on a registrant and his or her family that makes the headlines, there are many that don’t, and for obvious reasons. Registrants are already on a virtual “hit list.” The last thing they need is more publicity and a bigger target on their backs. As a result, a great many vigilante assaults or acts of vandalism go unreported. Additionally, even when they are reported to law enforcement, the report is often met with apathy and inaction from the police. To add insult to injury, the news media typically spends more column inches on the registrant’s prior crimes than the vigilante assault. It’s no wonder most registrants who become the victims of so-called “vigilante justice” prefer to stay mum about it.

Here’s the bottom line. Vigilantes who target registrants (or anyone else) are criminals. More often than not, they’re just morally bankrupt, mentally deranged, self-obsessed, pathetically incompetent criminals who aren’t making our communities any safer. In fact, just the opposite is true. They are a threat, not only to the rule of law, but to everyone around them.

It’s time to stop glorifying and enabling these criminals.

The Sex Offender Registry: A Gorilla on the Basketball Court

restaurant-small1By Michael M.

 Why does the public ignore the obvious unconstitutionality and overt cruelty of a sex offender registry that not only fails to accomplish its stated purpose – keeping our communities safer – but also condemns hundreds of thousands of registrants and their family members to a lifetime of humiliation, harassment, and possibility of unemployment, homelessness, and vigilantism?  It would be easy to assume that this apathy and inattentiveness by the public is simply the result of hatred, bias, or ignorance but there may be something else at work here, something that scientists have dubbed “inattentional blindness.”

gorillaIn 1999, psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris conducted an experiment that became world famous and was the subject of their 2010 book entitled, “The Invisible Gorilla.”  In their experiment, test subjects were shown a video of a basketball game after being asked to count the number of times the basketball is passed by players wearing white shirts.  During the game, a person in a gorilla suit strolls to the center of the screen, pauses to beat on his chest, and then wanders off.  After viewing the video, as many as 70% of the test subjects had no recollection whatsoever of a gorilla being in the video.

kenneth conley
Officer Kenneth Conley

This study has become the cornerstone of various theories and further experimentation centered on the phenomenon which became known as “inattentional blindness.”  The legal community took further notice of this topic when an undercover police officer named Kenny Conley was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1995 for claiming that he did not see a fellow officer beating a suspect as he ran by in pursuit of another suspect.  The jury simply did not believe that it was possible to miss something that obvious and convicted Officer Conley of lying to protect his colleague.

Simons, Chabris, and others decided to conduct a test to see if it was indeed possible that Officer Conley hadn’t seen the incident.  They set up a similar scenario and asked test subjects to chase a suspect and count the number of times the suspect touched his head while running. The route took the test subjects right past an on-going fist fight yet, afterwards, as many as 72% of the test subjects had no recollection of seeing the fight, which “obviously” occurred right in front of them.  As a result, Officer Conley was exonerated in July 2000.  The results of this study were published in 2011 under the title, “You do not talk about Fight Club if you do not notice Fight Club: Inattentional blindness for a simulated real-world assault.”

The conclusion of this and other similar studies is rather straightforward and simple.  Our brains pay attention to what we think is important or, at the very least, what others tell us is important.  Everything else is subconsciously categorized as being irrelevant and is discarded before having any effect on cognition or thought. As a result, we are literally blind to it; we simply don’t see it.

misdirection-3-638The mainstream media tells us daily what we should be paying attention to.  Their laser-like focus is invariably trained on sex offender registrants, high visibility or highly-placed pedophiles, and sex-traffickers.  The constant drum-beat and warnings of “stranger danger” not only stoke our natural anxieties as parents, but it also blinds us to the potential dangers that may exist right under our noses.

97% of the sexual assaults against juveniles are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.  59% are committed by acquaintances; 34% by family members.  Less than 7% of sexual assaults against juveniles are committed by strangers and an even smaller fraction of that number is attributable to known sex offenders.  “Stranger danger” is largely a myth.  Targeting registered sex offenders as your primary focus of fear and loathing is not only irrational, it is dangerous.

As for America’s “epidemic of missing children,” over 91% of them are runaways. 5% are the victims of family abduction. Less than 1% of the missing children were abducted by strangers and most of those were not registrants.  Again, the conspicuous focus on registered sex offenders makes the public blind to the real dangers that abound in our society.

Bu what about sex trafficking?  Surely, that is an issue we can all agree needs more attention and aggressive prosecution.  Yet, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an astonishing 88% of the children who end up being sex-trafficked became victims after going missing from government social services and foster homes!  It isn’t some creepy guy at the park who is snatching children from their homes and turning them into chattel, it is the very same government that is fueling your unwarranted fears of “stranger danger” and registrants.

Inattentional blindness causes the great majority of Americans to overlook the unconstitutionality and cruelty of a sex offender registry that makes our communities less safe by focusing your attention where it is least needed and accomplishes absolutely nothing.  It is a classic case of misdirection, blinding you to the political incompetence, law enforcement impotence, and contemptible court decisions that are so pervasive in the realm of sexual offense laws and policies.

It’s time we “just said no” to the media hysterics and political grandstanding about sexual offenses and start paying attention to the (now) painfully obvious gorilla on the basketball court.

Sexting is Not Pornography

by Dwayne Daughtry

Growing up as a teen, I had no idea what “age of consent” meant. Typically most teenagers’ understanding of the law is obey the speed limit, don’t drink and drive, and basically, don’t harm another person. However, in today’s modern society, age of consent issues have become an uncomfortable leap forward in birds and bees education because of its effects on families and anyone capable of holding a smartphone.

Image result for sextingStudies show that sexting and exchanging nude photographs is somewhat common among youth. Kids do not understand the law because sexting, to them, is a private exchange between two consenting parties.  Essentially, to their interpretations, it has become a new safer sex method and replacement to defunct gloss magazines. When a parent or adult explains to youth the consequences of sexting as an issue that could wind them up in jail, it seems like a parental discussion rather than a stern warning. That is, until it actually affects them with criminal charges.

Youth understanding the effects of sexting is a hit and miss market because of public embarrassment to begin discussions about sex education. Long gone are the boy’s bathroom gang holding up proof of girls panties too as a measure they have reached some form of adulthood. Smartphones have replaced such high-school rituals. When parents become involved because of policing private exchanges, the complications get much worse and in most cases places adults in a precarious situation because there is no pamphlet to explain what crosses parental discipline versus notification of authorities.

This is why children are now the most vulnerable to be listed as sex offenders in the United States because in many cases police bypass the parental obligations and enforce laws intended for professional performance to become cosigned parents and social workers.

Sexting isn’t going away anytime soon. Youth have learned to circumvent technology by no longer engaging in SMS texting or using software to delete its traces. This is why smartphone applications such as Snapchat, Signal, or Smiley Private texting are huge hits. Applications such as Blur, WhatsApp, and Digify allow photos to self-destruct. The amount of technology is outpacing public policy and keeping a step beyond authorities. The critical question is when will it backfire and be evidence down the road? Current public policy and laws are not attempting to facilitate a unified national age to protect young people.

This is a discussion that folks must engage in and advocate updates to current policy. However, the conversation should be at the heart of a feasible and humane age in keeping with the rest of the industrialized world. Once we institute a level field that everyone can understand then and only then will be able to engage in sensible dialog.

Read the full article at Subjective Belief.

RSO With Secret Facebook Account Wins Appeal

Josh Russel,  Courthouse News Service, May 31,2018

ALBANY (CN) – A New York appeals court dismissed the indictment Thursday of a sex offender who did not register his Facebook account with the state.

Designated as a level-3 sex offender, the highest designation, Arthur Ellis had served over two years in prison when his use of an unregistered social-media account led to another arrest in 2015.

no-facebook-icon“Rather, it is how someone identifies himself or herself when accessing a social networking account, whether it be with an electronic mail address or some other name or title, such as a screen name or user name,” Pritzker added. “Defendant’s failure to disclose his use of Facebook is not a crime, rendering the indictment jurisdictionally defective.”

Pritzker noted that a law called e-STOP, short for the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act, allows social-networking sites to preclude sex offenders from signing up.

“The main purpose of e-STOP is to enable social networking sites, or authorized Internet entities, to access these Internet identifiers in order to better protect the users of their websites,” Pritzker wrote.

Pritzker also called it telling that the statute makes no mention of requirement for a sex offender to disclose which authorized Internet entities he uses.

Ellis, now 70, served his previous sentence for promoting the sexual performance of a a boy and a girl under the age of 17.

Police arrested the Ticonderoga man after a search of his home revealed several DVDs containing child pornography. Level 3 offenders like Ellis must register for life with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

In June 2017, the Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law that barred convicted sex offenders from using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other popular social-media websites, ruling unanimously that such prohibitions encroach lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment.

Ellis was represented by Noreen McCarthy in Keene Valley, New York.

Justices William McCarthy, Michael Lynch, Eugene Devine and Christine Clark concurred with Pritzker’s ruling.

Read the full article at Courthouse News Service