Although I live in Los Angeles, I frequently go home during the weekends to visit my parents, hang out with my siblings, chat with the grandparents (when they’re in town), and play with our dog, VR.
My family lives on a quiet street in an unincorporated suburb of Los Angeles County. My parents moved there from East LA in 1978, just a few weeks before my older brother was born. Since then, we’ve forged strong relationships with our neighbors. As new families move in, we get to know them too.
The newest residents are a family of 8; a couple, four teenage girls and two boys about 8 years old.
Late in the summer, Dan (the father) came over to our house. He talked to my dad, a grey haired man who never acts on impulse.
“Do you know John Doe?” Dan asked angrily while his daughters stood behind him.
One of Dan’s relatives looked up the family’s new address on the Megan’s Law website. The results showed that a registered sex offender named John Doe lived just a few doors down.
As the father of 6 children, Dan was rightfully concerned. He wanted to march over to John Doe’s house across the street and confront him.
My dad vouched for John Doe, a long time neighbor, although he didn’t know what information was up on the Megan’s Law website. The way my dad figured, it wouldn’t be good for a fight to break out between the two men, both of who are married and have children.
My dad told me about the narrowly avoided mess later that day in a serious “I think you should know this” tone.
“Dad, I already know about John Doe.”
A few weeks earlier, I had checked another website listing convicted sex offenders. John Doe’s name came up.
However, it didn’t make me want to run out and launch a campaign to banish John Doe from my neighborhood. The website I checked distinguished between those who had committed offenses against minors and other sex offenders. John Doe had not been convicted of molesting a child and his offense wasn’t clear based on that website.
I explained this all to my dad and then offered to show him the website.
This time, we checked the official Megan’s Law website run by the Office of the Attorney General. I inputted my family’s address. Directly over the star representing my home sat a small blue box. I clicked it and saw John Doe’s name and photo. His offense was listed as 261.2, rape by force.
“Dad, look… he’s on here because he’s been convicted of rape.”
I suddenly felt uneasy.
My dad explained more about what he knew of John Doe’s past troubles with the law. According to him, John Doe served time in prison. My dad thought it was for a bar fight, but now wondered if it was for rape.
Truthfully, we weren’t sure what to do with the information. Were we supposed to gather up our pitchforks, make picket signs, confront John Doe, and print fliers to distribute to our neighbors?
This wasn’t some new guy who had just moved to the neighborhood like in Hong’s case or in Desperate Housewives. John Doe and his family have been a part of our neighborhood and lives for many years.
In the years John Doe had lived across the street, he had never done anything to hurt me or my family or even make us feel threatened. His worst offense was taking too long to return a borrowed tool.
Yes, he had committed a horrible crime, but he had also served his punishment and did what was required of him under Megan’s Law.
My dad didn’t tell Dan about what we learned fearing our new neighbor’s reaction while considering what he knew about John Doe after living across the street from him for many years.
I’m not sure he made the right decision.