Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Tell Me, Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

My uncle recently sent me a link to a website called Family Watchdog US. It's endorsed by John Walsh, who established "America's Most Wanted," and designed to "let you see where registered sexual offenders live and work around you." You enter your zip code and get a map showing all of the sexual offenders in your area:

The Brooklyn Sexual Offenders Map

The red dots are people who commit "offenses against children"; yellow dots are rapists; blue is sexual battery, and green is people who committed the ominously huge category of "other offenses." The whole thing is topped by the alarming and ungrammatical notice, "There may be additional offenders who cannot be properly displayed on this map."

Scrolling around to see all of New York City, I'm fascinated to see where these people live -- primarily poorer, denser neighborhoods, as might be expected of people who have spent serious time in jail. There are a lot of rapists, child molesters, and "other offenders" in Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy, and Williamsburg. Quite a few rapists and other offenders in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The sexual batterers appear to have settled down en masse in New Jersey -- three times as many as the rest of the entire metropolitan area. Queens as a whole seems to be the most sexual offender-free borough, but most of the rich neighborhoods are clean: Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights, TriBeCa, Soho, midtown, the whole Upper East Side.

And I was indeed relieved to see that there weren't any rapists or child molesters in Park Slope. But an "other offender" lives right on 12th Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues, about three-fourths of the way down the block. And when I clicked on his dot, his name, address, mug shot, and offense popped up: Michael Hands, 243 12th Street, "Sodomy-3rd degree Male, 14 years."

Oh God. The poor, poor boy -- such an awful thing to have happen to him, if it was forced, and I hope, wherever he is, he's gotten the help he needed to recover. And yet I can't help feeling a twinge of pity for Michael Hands too, who will be stalked by this offense (and Family Watchdog US) the entire rest of his life. . . . There is no allowance for the individual story here, that the boy consented, that Michael repented, that it was one time fifteen years ago and he has a partner now and two safe, happy kids of his own. (Yes, I know how unlikely these scenarios are, and about sexual-offender recidivism rates. But I hope.) There is no mercy, after he has, after all, paid his time.

But I admit that, knowing this, if I lived in the apartments at 243 12th Street, I'd have a harder time saying hello to him in the lobby. And if I had a child, by God, I wouldn't want mercy, I'd want safety.

So I am fascinated by this map as a sociological tool. I am troubled by it as a supporter of the right to privacy and a believer that people can change. I am grateful for it if it helps prevent even one sexual offense.

I am conflicted. And now I'm going to eat dinner.


  1. I have seen these maps before and have also been conflicted. On one hand, it freaked me out that there were sex offenders in my neighborhood (not according to your link, by the way. I don't remember where I saw it before, but it seems that your link is lacking info on the Cambridge area. Anyway.) but also felt that it was a bit much to show their pictures and addresses. Perhaps the dots on the map should be enough to remind people that there are people who commit these crimes everywhere, that we should always be cautious, but not provide us with such detailed information about the particular offenses so as to let the people have a second chance.

  2. Yay Queens! Yay Tribeca!

    By the way, it's

  3. This map presupposes a perfect court system, something we frankly don't have. We must keep in mind rich white men are far more likely to draw the "get out of jail free" card than any poor urban youth. Those big blank spaces are sadly a lie.

  4. I agree with Meredith... what this map really shows is who has access to 'justice' and who doesn't-- as well as who reports what kind of crime. In J's social welfare training meeting, they brought up that rape and sexual battery cannot be tied to class. But the partners of affluent stock brockers have the luxury of calling in sick for a week while the bruises heal, while those women who have to show up to work to keep their jobs are the ones who get their bruises noticed.