A few years ago, Ohio was one of the first states to introduce special vehicle license plates for people who have been convicted of drunk driving. I actually haven't seen a lot of the yellow plates with red letters but every once in awhile I see them. I am still trying to figure out what I am supposed to do when I see one of them. Slam on my brakes? Pull to the other side of the road? Wag my finger? Follow them and hope they lead me to a fun time? I am just not sure.
I have thought to myself that if I had a problem with friends always wanting to borrow my car, perhaps having the yellow plates could be a blessing. It could put a stop to that right then and there.
I suppose that if bar owners monitored incoming cars for the plates, that maybe could be helpful ... I don't know. Or maybe AA groups could use the plates to find potential members. That would probably be the absolute best thing. Or perhaps if Christians just looking for someone to show God's love to who probably isn't really feeling a lot of it at the moment were to watch for these plates.
Now, some in Ohio are wanting to up the ante on "scarlet letter laws" with a proposal that those convicted of sexual predator crimes be required to have special license plates as well. A similar proposal was actually made a couple of years ago involving pink license plates. It failed but this recent proposal, involving green license plates, just might make it.
Believe me, I am not at all in any way shape or form discounting the seriousness of these crimes but I am really struggling with seeing how these laws are helpful. Of course, it's hard ... very hard ... to fight the argument that "if just one child is spared ... if just one life is saved, then this is a good law."
Of course, that theory could be taken further as well though. What if we required everyone in AA to have the yellow plates? I mean, think about it ... people do fall off the wagon on occasion and very bad things can result from that. Why not go further and just warn us all about everyone who has ever faced their demons and are in recovery for anything? That could spare a child or save a life, too.
Why not psychological testing of everyone and then we all get labeled according to anything we might be prone to?
Again, I am not making light of things but I can see all sorts of ways to warn people of potential crimes and criminals. Ever touch or handle a gun, knife, other deadly weapon, or black leather gloves? Let's brand you with "PM" for "potential murderer". Ever shoplift a pack of gum as a kid? A giant "K" branded on your forehead would be good. Ever look at a member of the opposite sex and perhaps not have the most pure of thoughts? How about "PA" for you for "potential adulterer"? Ever say something that wasn't 100% true? I'd like it if folks I am negotiating business deals with were branded with an "L" for "liar". Ever be late on paying a bill on time? Well, wait a second, credit reporting agencies do handle that. Carried to this extent, we could all be labeled, many times over I suspect.
Again, I am not making light of anything ... but I am really struggling here. These license plate laws seem more about public humiliation and ostracization than they do about really accomplishing anything. Some crtics of these laws have pointed out the possibility of hate crimes against those with the plates. That really has not been on my mind at all ... I think that the potential for another crime is poor justification for not passing a law that is designed to protect people. But, just the same, I have real problems with what looks to me like nothing more than a desire to cull out those folks who have made mistakes, been caught in them, and gone through our judicial system.
We recently had a convicted sexual predator move into our neighborhood. Just maybe 20 houses away. Ohio was among the first states to track where sexual offendors live so we were made aware of this gentleman's presence in our neighborhood. Knowing that this ex-convict is living there probably makes me keep a bit of a closer eye on his house. But, I also have to wonder ... the guy living across the street from me could be a convicted murderer and I wouldn't know it. (Sorry, Don ... I don't really believe that about you though I did see you carrying that axe the other day.)
I still wonder, though, what I am supposed to do in the case of this guy who lives 20 houses a way? Stare at him when I drive by? Shout obscenities at him? Paint his mailbox pink or green? Steal the invitation to our neighborhood's annual block party out of his mailbox before he gets it?
I just do not know what my reaction is supposed to be.
I can tell you one thing ... I can recognize that he is a man who probably isn't feeling much love at all from his neighbors nor from those who apparently consider themselves a part of the moral elite. And that's a shame. He is my neighbor and I am called to love him.
Are the plates a deterrent to crime? I have heard that claim made -- that people won't commit these crimes because they don't want to be labeled. I hate to say it but people who are dealing with obsessive compulsions and addictions already constantly live in fear of getting caught and being exposed ... the possibility of a special license plate is not going to keep them from the bad choices and harmful behavior to which they are so painfully driven.
These are tough things, I know ... but I think there is a point where vindictive and / or fearful mindsets start to rule over common sense ... perhaps we have reached that point in Ohio. Real healing cannot occur on the part of those who have made bad choices by just shutting them up in labeled boxes and pointing fingers at them.
Perhaps, what we need to seek is that real, deep healing for these folks ... not a different color of license plate.