Friday, March 26, 2010

What about them?

In this season of new life, promise and renewal, here is a recent column of mine published in the Claremont Courier.


"We should treat sexual predators no different than murderers. Sexual predators should be put away for life. Period."


These are strong words, and "period" is the strongest, making the rest of the words all the stronger. And they, and other such words, are being heard more and more. No doubt they are heard in Claremont.

But does Claremont really want to say "period?"

These words aren’t from Claremont. They are part of a letter appearing two weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times, written in response to the rape and murder of Chelsea King, a high school student in northern San Diego County. The writer is from Chino.

Yes, the person who abducted Chelsea King (allegedly a man who may have killed another teenaged girl) was a killer as well as a sexual offender, but I have no doubt the writer’s words would have been just as strong if the person was just a sexual offender. And I’m pretty sure that Claremont, in this case, may well have been Chino. I could easily see this letter written here. For better or for worse.

This is a town that can’t even stand having a 7-11. For better or for worse.

Much more than even the outcry years ago over the opening of a Starbucks in the Village, the uproar over the proposed 7-11 convenience store, which would be open late at night and sell alcoholic beverages, at Foothill and Mills proves that Claremont goes out of its way to protect its image as a nice, clean, safe town. Never mind that there are two similar mini-marts a block away. Never mind that there is a 7-11 store on Foothill Boulevard in Pomona just outside Claremont. Never mind that Claremont can really use the sales tax from such a store.

The argument that a store selling liquor, much less at all hours, shouldn’t be across the street from the colleges makes the most sense, but let’s not kid ourselves. For one thing, does anyone think that the kegs at the big parties at the colleges are filled with root beer? I was once at a meeting of theater students where a party featuring 100 bottles of wine was being planned.

In any case, not wanting a store in Claremont is one thing. Not wanting a person in Claremont is another thing.

Of course, we don’t want anyone like who raped and killed Chelsea King living here. If any such thing happened in Claremont, there would be shock and outrage, to say the very least. And rightly so. Claremont takes great pride in being a good, safe place for raising a family, a good, safe place to grow up in. (It should be noted that Chelsea King lived in a gated community.)

I remember protests in Claremont over rapists and child molesters living here. Some years ago, a convicted child molester living in La Verne voluntarily returned to prison, because there was so much tension, including in Claremont, over him living there.

New laws have made it virtually impossible for released sexual offenders to live in the community. There are so many places - parks, schools, libraries, churches - that they can’t live near. In addition, where they live is made public. They are all but driven out of town. Any town.

To where they can’t get the help and support and the sense of community and belonging there so clearly need. To where they have more loneliness, more hurt and anger and all the more reason to lash out.

Is it just better to not let these people go after they serve their time? Is it just better to lock them up and throw away the keys? Or to just kill them, as obviously dangerous and worthless people?

And what about Marcia Meier’s brother? He’s pretty scary.

Ms. Meier writes about her brother in an op-ed piece that appeared a bit earlier in the Times, on February 28:

"He is agitated. Someone is trying to harm him, take his money. He’s going down to the sheriff’s office. He’s serious. He’s going to take a gun and shoot somebody if those people don’t back off.... And so my gesturing wildly, storming about the yard. I am wary. He threatened to kill me once.

"I look at him. Reed thin. Hollow cheeks. Half his teeth are gone. He is 52."

It looks like this guy should be put away, locked up with the key thrown away. He is definitely bad news, a real danger.

But, as Ms. Meier writes, her brother "lives in a world of shifting realities, voices and paranoia." He is mentally ill and disabled. He has severe schizophrenia and needs help.

Being in prison isn’t what he needs.

Ms. Meier worries about what her brother needs and how he will get it. Ms. Meier writes that her brother has been in and out of jail for petty crimes and that he has done drugs. She writes about how he lives - barely - on Supplemental Security Income and about how their mother always helped him out, buying stuff and paying a bill here and there. She writes that their mother has died and that she is now the one looking out for her brother.

Who, she wonders, will care for him when she no longer can? Will anyone?

I wonder if Claremont would. I wonder if there’s a place in Claremont for this man if he wanted to live here. I wonder if he would be welcomed, would be part of the community, here.

Some years ago, Claremont decided to restrict the number and location of group homes for the developmentally disabled here in town, saying they can’t be less than a considerable number of feet away from each other. To this day, I still don’t understand what it is about the developmentally disabled - which I technically am - that their presence have to be so limited.

At about the same time, there was much tension over a proposal to house developmentally disabled criminals at Lanterman State Hospital (now in the process of being closed down). A San Dimas man stated at a public hearing that he was concerned about a man "with a carrot for a brain" escaping and causing harm.

What I want to know is this: How much harm can a carrot-brained man concoct and accomplish? That is, if he can manage to get anywhere. Or are we, even in our post-9/11, on-guard society, that scared and paralyzed?

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