BUZZ Blog: Head of Minnesota ACLU calls sex offender ordinance 'awful,' talks about lawsuit
Peter Passi and Brandon Stahl cover issues related to the city of Duluth. Follow BUZZ on Twitter.
Give me Liberties
One of the perspectives I was hoping to get into the reporting on the Level III sex offender ordinance was that of Chuck Samuelson, the head of the Minnesota ACLU, if only because Samuelson is about as forthcoming/opinionated a source as they come, and I was curious if the ACLU might sue the city over the ordinance.
Unfortunately, we weren't able to connect until Tuesday, but he had some interesting things to say.
And so what does Samuelson think of the ordinance?
"It's an awful law," he said.
Why? First, Samuelson said he wasn't familiar with the exact provisions of the ordinance, but guessed correctly that it was one that banned Level III offenders from living within a certain amount (in this case about a half mile) from daycares, schools and playgrounds, and yet provided an exemption for the offenders to live with families.
"And that is really stupid," he said. "Because who have most Level III offenders have offended against? The other sad thing is that it tends to be generational. Abuse, sex abuse is a generational thing. You get abused, so your kid gets abused, so he abuses. It's just a ... it's really sad."
But will the law protect residents, as councilors hope?
"No," he said. "I think #1, the reality is these stranger rape things [it's supposed to prevent]? No. That won't happen. Before people get too crazy, I had a level III sex offender that lived half a block from me. Would I allow my son to go to his house alone at night? No. Was he skulking around, luring little boys -- that was his thing -- no. He was a troubled guy, a former lutheran pastor, really smart, his wife stayed with him. I know that we had people who said they were victims of his, and they went door to door in our neighborhood and urged us to drive him out. We said, there's a civil court, you can go after him ... but what you're doing now is morally bankrupt."
"There's a sort of frenzy," he continued. "And people are going to get whipped up in a frenzy."
Then he led into the second question -- will the ACLU challenge Duluth's ordinance?
"What we need is the perfect plaintiff and when we find one we probably will," he said.
What does he mean by the perfect plaintiff?
"It's got to be someone who has done nothing, been an exemplary person," he said. "In the best of all possible worlds it's got to be someone who was falsely catalogued as a level III offender because maybe they refused treatment or something like that. And it would be someone who has been injured in a real way by not being able to live in a place they could afford to live."
"We might not file a suit for five years, and if we do, it might not be in Duluth," he said.
The offender laws, which are being adopted in other Minnesota communities, "are spreading because they appeal to the baser instincts of people."
But wait, I said, these laws are designed to protect the community from Level III offenders -- those most likely to re-offend. As councilors argued before passing the ordinance, these people are just going to re-offend, right? So shouldn't we want them out of our neighborhoods?
"Statistically that's not proven," he said (the Department of Corrections report backs him up). "This is not a rational thing. This is absolutely a fear based law."
Well, we agree there. Though I am one of those cowering under my blankets.
At any rate, whether you think Samuelson is bonkers, let's take a step back and look at the irony of his comments. The councilors who proposed the ordinance are all democrats (though it was unanimously approved), and the ACLU isn't, you know, a right-leaning organization.
Is Samuelson surprised that democrats brought this ordinance forward?
"Nope," he said. "Frankly, the police have no leverage on the republicans. It's like only Nixon could go to China."
His explanation of that: Because Nixon hammered against communist China, he was the only president who could recognize it as a county. Yeah, I'm not sure I get the metaphor, either.
At any rate, Samuelson ended by asking why the councilors didn't put more pressure on having the Level III offenders put at the Moose Lake facility, noting that would be done "at taxpayers expense."
And to that question, I don't know the answer.