Wednesday, as lightning licked the skyline and a wall of thunderclouds bore down on Miami, New Times took a bicycle along the shoulder of the Julia Tuttle Causeway to meet Terry Brown, soon to be its newest resident.
Last March, New Times wrote about three sex offenders who had been placed by their probation officers beneath a bridge across the street from the county criminal courthouse. The location, we pointed out, was also across the street from a center for child victims of sexual assault. The State Department of Corrections duly responded by arresting one of the offenders for having been registered incorrectly (his address on the state database was that of his victim – a mistake that he insisted had been made by someone else) and by moving the other two offenders to another bridge – beneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway, where another two offenders were already living.
In Miami-Dade, offenders must not live within 2,500 feet of a school; a state law prohibits them from living within 1,000 feet of any place where children congregate. The Department of Corrections has made it clear that the men under the Julia Tuttle were put there because the causeway – surrounded by a mile of water in every direction -- is one of the only spots in the county they can find that doesn’t violate these laws. There are now eight sex offenders registered as living on the causeway.
Terry Brown intends to be the ninth. A clean-shaven, slightly paunchy, and well-dressed man in his early forties, Brown cut a unusual figure among the fishermen, homeless, and down-and-outers who trudge up and down the causeway all day. He is the head of a political lobbying group of his own creation called Hope4Tomorrow (Hopefortomorrow.org is already taken by a Christian missionary group), which describes itself as focusing “on strengthening laws such that they will be effective in reducing child sexual abuse cases in the U.S.” The wording is vague, and perhaps a little misleading – Hope4Tomorrow’s primary concern is changing restrictions on released sex offenders that Brown says are unconstitutional and, in fact, more dangerous for children because they push offenders into hiding.
Fresh from Kansas, today, Brown says, he too will register himself as living under the Julia Tuttle, in protest of local laws. Saturday, he says, his group and other “family members, human rights activists, child advocates, ex-offenders, and reporters from across the nation and the world” will gather at the Holocaust Memorial at 10:00 A.M. for a “media event” drawing attention to the injustice of current sex offender laws. (Holocaust Memorials get used for a lot of inappropriate causes, but this one might take the cake.)
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Brown is himself a sex-offender, registered in Kansas with two offenses: aggravated indecent solicitation of a child, and sexual exploitation of children. He claims that one of the charges was without merit. “My own proposal would put me back in prison for the rest of my life,” he claims. “But it would be better than what we have now. . . let’s draw a line in the sand, that’s what I’m saying – rather than trample 600,000 people we need to identify the 20,000 who are dangerous and give them treatment.”
His “proposal” is a bit sprawling – he refers to a “five-pronged” approach – but in a nutshell, he thinks that offenders who committed less serious and one-time crimes should be placed in a different category than repeat offenders – like himself – who should be watched more closely. He also describes having been placed in a halfway house when he came out of prison, where he received shelter and treatment, and thinks the same should be done for the men under the bridge.
Brown had come Wednesday to “check out my new digs,” he said. He even had his mother along – she waved from inside his car. “I’ve already met some of the guys,” Brown said cheerfully. “One of them – Angel – is a very nice guy; his mom is back there, cooking him rice and beans right now.” Brown says he’ll stay for sixty days or until a change is made in the laws. When asked if he’s really prepared to live under the causeway with eight other homeless offenders for two months, he answers – “I don’t know-- I guess we’ll see!” The storm upon us, Brown offered a hand, got into his car, and vanished beneath the bridge. --Isaiah Thompson