City Officials Stoke Mob Mentality in Front of Sex Offender’s Home

When Richard Gardner, a convicted child sex offender, was released from prison after serving almost 30 years, he quietly moved into the Washington Park neighborhood in Providence. One would not have expected a welcome wagon — but an angry mob should not have been the result either.

Because his crimes were committed so long ago, Gardner is not subject to the community notification provisions that apply to more recent offenders under the state’s Megan’s Law. But the police leaked his address to public officials, and a media circus ensued. The result has been raucous nightly protests in front of his house by dozens of people calling on him to leave the neighborhood.

This scenario is troubling for many reasons. First, rather than act responsibly, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza helped fuel the angry gatherings in front of Gardner’s home by stating at a community meeting immediately preceding the first protest that Gardner “has given up his right to be here in the community.” Other city officials have also encouraged a mob mentality that statements like these promote.

But forcing Gardner out of his house and potentially leaving him homeless — something that other state policies setting residency restrictions for sex offenders have undeniably done to others — only makes the public less safe. The evidence is abundantly clear: Housing stability is one of the most effective ways to prevent recidivism. Integrating ex-offenders into communities — rather than ostracizing them — is one of the best things neighbors and policymakers can do to promote public safety. Further, it’s a lot harder for police to monitor the whereabouts of a homeless person than somebody living at a particular address.

The city’s response to the protests is troubling for another reason. There has been a regular police presence at the gatherings outside Gardner’s house, although city officials have been vague in explaining whether they are there to protect Gardner or the public. What makes the police presence surprising is that a Providence ordinance from 1973 actually bans the type of protest that is taking place in front of Gardner’s house. With the U.S. Supreme Court’s blessing, the city has an enforceable law that bans picketing in residential areas that is targeted at particular homes, so one would have expected the police to be breaking up these protests rather than approving them.

Since the ACLU has opposed these laws on free speech grounds, and continues to do so, we have no interest in demanding that the city enforce this ordinance. But one thing the city cannot do is allow protests in front of Richard Gardner’s house but then enforce the ordinance against other protesters. The city simply does not have the right to pick and choose when it will enforce the ordinance depending on what the picketing happens to be about. The law is the law and should be applied equally.

Thus, groups that may have been prohibited from engaging in residential picketing in Providence in the past — such as political groups wishing to protest in front of the house of a public official or consumer groups trying to shame a slum landlord in front of his home — should now be afforded the same rights and privileges to engage in residential protests. In a letter the ACLU sent the mayor on Oct. 20, we pointed this out, and we are prepared to take legal action if it is selectively enforced.

The ACLU recognizes the concerns of some members of the community, but elected leaders and public officials need to respond constructively rather than fan the flames of fear. We all care about the safety of our children, but trying to force Gardner out of the Washington Park neighborhood is a misguided and ineffective way to serve this greater goal. Rather than descending into vigilantism and reactive legislation, this situation offers an opportunity to consider more productive ways to support safe and inclusive communities.

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SgrA*

" . . . but elected leaders and public officials need to respond constructively rather than fan the flames of fear."

I was listening to the the news today, suggesting that politicians should tone-down the rhetoric that is violently fueling their base(s). I think Conservatives are finally asking people to be politically correct. Like in this transgender case covered, why is the Trump administration being mean-spirited? Do they really hate transgender people because of who/what they are?
Political correctness is an endeavor to be polite while covering harsh or uncomfortable topics that need to be discussed. But instead, due to the maniacal aspects of Trump's words, people just rage at each other.

Even in regard to the Trump invective concerning the "caravan" from Central America -- who knows -- maybe God called all these people from South and Central America to come to the promised land; a grand pilgrimage led by the spirit. Families seeking the promised land and increasing their ability to take care of their families, even seeking the opportunity to . . . buy a mega lotto ticket and win $1.6 billion dollars before taxes.

Anonymous

Thanks for taking this on. Unruly mobs targeting a person in their home will not jkeep anyone safe.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Did the mob carry pitchforks and torches?

AnonymouS

Were they all wearing red-caps? Is the "red" MAGA cap the modern equivalent to the "brown" shirts of Nazi Germany that raged their society?

Two things we learned from WWII's Nuremberg trials, that are lost nowadays. 1) People involved didn't feel the need to take responsibility for their rage, using the excuse they were just following orders of their leadership; and, 2) Terrible things happened when good people stayed quiet and didn't do anything.

Here we go again!

Dr. Timothy Leary

I think some people ought to wear a blue cap with the letters "FAGA" on it.

Anonymous

Officials in Virginia practice an illegal covert version of this, which is a criminal violation of federal law. My past two serious girlfriends' parents were extremely close to local law enforcement in Virginia. Not only did I receive speeding tickets after each breakup but apparently they placed me on some type of "Double-Secret Probation" program, never accused of anything and never charged with anything. Any official acting as a "criminal accessory" could go to federal prison if convicted. Judges should investigate and outlaw Virginia's illegal program.

Anonymous

Nobody likes a child molester and good luck keeping them from saying it out loud.

Anonymous

I long ago moved my factory, annual $24,000,000 million revenue out of this corrupt state.
Remember Buddy Cianci the Mayor who went to jail?
Maybe this mayor will next next?

Derek Logue of ...

The police should be sued for leaking the information. This is why the registry needs to be abolished.

David p

I live in Rhode Island and have been following this nonsense for the past week I even took a ride by Richards house to see who these people who are protesting were and from what I seen if someone called ice this would stop.Providence has a mayor who should worry more about fixing schools instead of being a vigilante.

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