It already feels like the star-crossed Trump press conference at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia, PA alleging voter fraud happened two weeks ago, and given the speed of this news cycle, it may as well have.
I really hate to be put in the position of defending anyone appearing at that conference, or really anyone repeating allegations of voter fraud in a bid to save a sinking ship. However, I’m going to do just that.
Politico reported that Daryl Brooks, who spoke at the Four Seasons presser alleging that irregularities occurred while he was volunteering as a GOP poll watcher, “is a sex offender.”
That became the topic of much conversation, joking, and outrage on Twitter and elsewhere. I was outraged too, though for completely different reasons: that the media thought it relevant and necessary to rake a Black man over the coals for a nearly three-decade old conviction for which he was punished and has a colorable claim of innocence in regards to.
Oh, and he’s not a sex offender. So the headline and reporting isn’t even accurate.
First up, I’ll say that people should be held accountable for harm that they cause. And, whatever the truth is about what Brooks was convicted of, he was punished for it. And it was almost 30 years ago.
More pressingly, it is not clear that Politico’s reporting is even accurate. It seems to take the word of a random Wordpress.com website that it links to in its own reporting, as well as other historical news reports referencing Brooks conviction. The Wordpress site looks like it was SEO’d and set up come up in google results of his name (which is also ostensibly how Politico stumbled onto this “scoop.”)
However, according to other reporting, Brooks doesn’t appear on either the New Jersey or Pennsylvania sex offender registries. He doesn’t appear on the national registry, either. It appears that he’s actually no longer required to register — and if that’s the case, why is the media referring to him as a “sex offender?”
Then, to complicate matters further, Brooks has what appears to be at least a colorable innocence claim in regards to his conviction:
Brooks’ alleged crime took place in daylight on a busy street inside a then bustling North Trenton public housing project directly outside the window of a police mini-station.
Yet, no one saw this lewd act except two young girls — suspiciously the daughters of a drug dealer targeted by Brooks’ anti-drug activism.
That drug dealer’s daughters provided the only evidence producing Brooks’ jury verdict conviction.
Police couldn’t or didn’t produce any other eyewitnesses to Brooks’ act despite scores of people occupying the three dozen-plus apartments overlooking where Brooks reportedly masturbated at that housing project where Brooks, then a biblical college student, grew up.
Since Brooks regularly assailed Trenton political corruption before his arrest Rabbi Geller believes Brooks’ political enemies exploited that suspicious arrest to “shut him up” with incarceration which “ruined the life of a remarkable individual” by making him a life-long sex offender that blocks things like employment opportunities.
Politico’s reporting was updated with Brooks’ comments protesting his innocence, and ending with the kicker that his conviction has not been reversed. It is quite the feat of cognitive dissonance to presumably know and understand that we live in a world where people are convicted of crimes they did not commit, but that also everyone who is innocent has the resources and sheer luck to have those convictions reversed. That is, simply, not reality.
I don’t know whether or not Brooks is innocent. Maybe he isn’t. Maybe he has many faults. People were also quick to bring up his child support arrearages, apparently oblivious to the impact that sex offender registration has one one’s employment prospects.
Whatever the case, he was fully punished for his conviction. And, not to put too fine a point on this, it was almost three decades ago. We say we want people to move on with their lives after they leave prison — to change, or reform, or be “corrected” by our various Departments of Correction.
Even assuming his guilt, Brooks appears to have at least tried to have done that, by being a political activist (even if, in this instance, he’s doing something with which I vehemently disagree). It seems hypocritical and illegitimate for our systems and our media to insist on reform in one moment, only to deny even its possibility in perpetuity. We exist in an era of mass incarceration, and that exceedingly very people saw any problem with this reporting indicate to me that the impulse to punish, and to punish for extreme lengths of time, is alive and well in our blood.