Now, today like many of you I read about the arrest of Antolin Garcia-Torres, for the murder of missing Californa teenager Sierra LaMar. She went missing over a month ago while walking to her bus-stop. As usual, local law enforcement was quick to assure us that they were "doing all they could" and "taking all the possible precautions"...by checking with all the registered sex offenders, of course.
One of the first things we learned about Sierra was that her father was a registered sex offender. Amidst the flurry of news outlets that picked up on the information, somewhere buried at the bottom of most articles was the fact that despite his status, her father was not a suspect. We weren't told what kind of girl Sierra was, what she liked to do or if she had any plans for the future. She was defined by two things: her father's criminal history, and another opportunity for law enforcement and the media to feign interest in finding her as safely and as quickly as possible, by ignoring the most likely circumstances and wasting valuable time keeping up public appearances.
Despite the desperate reporting we often hear - "compliance checks", "sex offender roundups" and "crackdowns", sex offenders "on the run" - the hysteria is almost entirely unfounded. A small number of particularly heinous but unusual cases over the last 2 decades have almost exclusively formed the public opinion that all sex offenders are murdering child rapists who cannot control their lust for innocent little kids. A 2011 CSOM study indicated that only 3% of the general public correctly believes the recidivism rates for sex offenders are "less than 25%". Not surprisingly, 74% of the general public admitted that the knowledge they have about sex offenders comes from the news media.
When I heard about the arrest of Mr. Garcia-Torres, I could hardly wait to see if he was a registrant...and of course, he was not. As I read about his previous violent criminal charges, the story started to sound eerily familiar. Then I remembered the horrifying case of 9-year-old Aliahna Lemmon, an Indiana girl who was beaten, murdered and dismembered by her mother's boyfriend in December 2011. For the days leading up to the arrest, law enforcement actively questioned the 15 sex offenders who lived in the same trailer park, and were very quick to ensure the country that they had been very actively monitoring the sex offenders prior to her disappearance. Is there anything else to do in a missing persons case?
Michael Plumadore, a neighbor and family friend, was eventually arrested and confessed to the brutal killing. He was not a registered sex offender - although he did have previous convictions for fraud and physical assault. In fact, he had an open arrest warrant from the state of Florida for assaulting a police officer. Yet in all the time he lived in the trailer park with 15 sex offenders, not once did the police realize (or care?) that Mr. Plumadore was a wanted violent felon. Apparently, monitoring the activities of people who have long since served their sentences was more of a priority than preventing possible crimes. Indeed, they paid a serious price - an innocent child, the supposed justification for sex offender hysteria - lost her life. But who cares?
The media certainly didn't. For months following her death, all we heard about were "sex offender clusters" and outrage as to why Aliahna's mother moved her daughters to an area "teaming with sex offenders". No one cared that not one of the registrants had harmed her, much less dismembered her and confessed to her murder. The name Michael Plumadore had been long forgotten. We heard the words "justice" and "innocent little angel" and "tragedy", but no one cared enough to get beyond the convenient blame-game and do something about it. We didn't hear from the local law enforcement or even "outraged" lawmakers pledging to "protect children". No - Aliahna's legacy was a couple of months of material for desperate journalists, and then it was gone. Does anyone even remember her?
I don't expect the media, or lawmakers for that matter, to change their tactics anytime soon. It's in their nature to leech off of whatever they can to make the most possible profit. But the public knows better. The public - which is all of us - mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and communities - should demand better. A true safety advocate continues on in the face of dissent, realizing our loved ones deserve more than just rhetoric and comforting yet ineffective laws. Do you?
Do you remember Aliahna Lemmon? Shame on the media, the public and law enforcement for exploiting the death of Aliahna Lemmon