In the past two weeks, everyone in my neighborhood has received not one, but two, fliers from the city police notifying every home within a mile radius of the 2700 block of [Redacted] Avenue that there are two level III sex offenders living there. “Level III” being defined as “likely to offend again.” The fliers also describe their offenses: non-consenual, forceful rape (as opposed to consensual, non-forceful rape?) and exposing oneself to children. I don’t know what the other five offenders living in my neighborhood did, because they only send the fliers when the offenders move in, not when one moves into the neighborhood. (I found out about the other men by looking at a sex offender crime map, which allows you to research offenders by city and is incredibly frightening/strangely comforting. Theoretically, being informed makes a person safer.)
Mind you, these men have taken up residence two blocks from a school, three blocks from a daycare center, and two blocks from a park. How is this allowed to happen, you may ask?
I had the same question, so I read every word of each flier five times, trying to burn the men’s pictures into memory. I am still baffled. Basically, in Minnesota, convicted sex offenders likely to reoffend can live anywhere they want and there’s nothing you can do about it except move, never leave your house, or hope for the best.
“Should we get a gun?” my fiancé and I asked ourselves, ultimately deciding that that’s not a sensible solution. What is honestly the most likely scenario? I carry a pistol in my shorts pocket and shoot someone in the leg for getting too close to me?
We brainstormed some more. Short of uprooting our lives and moving out of an apartment we love, maybe mace was the solution. That did seem like a smarter choice. Turns out that, unlike bear spray, you can use the same canister repeatedly and it fits on a key chain, so I guess that’s as good argument for it as any. However, one of my African American acquaintances was maced for walking too close to an old white lady when he was a teenager. I don’t want to be that old white lady.
I thought about the rape whistle Buster carries around in “Arrested Development.” I thought about Amy Schumer’s joke that all women have been a little bit raped. I thought about the difference between having sex with a seven year old versus having sex with a 17 year old, and how one crime should brand a person for life and, but how I judge the latter situation as more circumstantial. I then got sick to my stomach, went online and looked at that data map I mentioned earlier in this post that shows where registered sex offenders live, who they are, and what they did. Seven. Count them. And I’d been walking down theit streets, unaware, for close to two years. But nothing happened, I tell myself, trying to allay my fears. Crime can happen in any neighborhood, but it seems more likely to happen in neighborhoods with convicted criminals, right? Does living closer to a handful of criminals in an otherwise relatively safe neighborhood mean that something would ever happen? I have no idea.
The dalai lama says that compassion is the most important thing, so I tried being compassionate, forcing myself to think, “They went to prison, perhaps they learned from their mistakes. These guys did something morally abhorrent and socially taboo and are in my opinion complete scum, but maybe it doesn’t mean they’re awful people. Maybe everyone deserves a second chance.” In my heart and in my mind, though, when I imagine myself walking down those forever-sullied streets and avoiding the 2700 block of that street as much as possible, I don’t believe that for a second. It’s next to impossible to be compassionate when you’re afraid for your own safety and well-being, as well as the kids’ living across the street from you.
The truth is, the world is a dangerous place, but it can also be a safe, compassionate, and loving place. You can’t always predict which one you’ll wake up to, however. I suppose the ultimate answer is empowerment and common sense. I’m finally going to take that self defense class I’ve been telling myself I should take for five years. I’m going to stop walking around on empty streets at night listening to my iPod. I’m going to be more cautious, but I’m not going to let fear win out, because if there’s one overriding philosophy I’ve always lived by, it’s that you should never make decisions based out of fear, because that’s a surefire guarantee that you will live a life filled with regret.