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Reader's View: Don't judge -- We all have criminal history

We are hearing a lot about youthful bad behavior by people aspiring to be in positions of public trust. Are people accountable for misdeeds long past? We can get some powerful insights from Emily Baxter, former Minnesota attorney and public defender and founder of the organization We Are All Criminals. The group points out at that, "One in four people has a criminal record (and) four in four have a criminal history."

Baxter asks at workshops what attendees have had the luxury to forget. People without records remember actions that could have led to criminal convictions: underage drinking or supplying alcohol to minors, driving under the influence, disorderly conduct, fighting (assault), possessing a controlled substance, shoplifting, trespassing, destruction of property, and more, she said. Suffering no consequences, these people enjoy good-paying jobs and professional careers.

Those who did not get away with similar offenses have no luxury to forget. With lifelong criminal records, they face huge barriers in getting jobs, housing, credit, and student aid, all things needed to have a stable life and to get ahead. The label "criminal" means they remain under increased suspicion by law enforcement.

Furthermore, most lose their right to vote. In 10 states, that can be for life.

Who's more likely to have the luxury to forget? We can all guess the answer: people with more money, connections, and the status our society grants based on light skin color. Who is most likely to be convicted and fall into the downward spiral that creates? People with less money and no family connections, especially if they have darker skin.

As we judge reports of bad behavior, we can remember: Having no criminal record doesn't mean innocence — nor does having a record mean the offender has done something we have not done ourselves.

Beth Tamminen