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In the South, it’s one step forward, one leap back

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Published on Wed, Feb 7, 2007
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In the South, it’s one step forward, one leap back

It’s been over 140 years since the Civil War ended, and while the bloody conflict that cost our country over 600,000 lives marked the biggest difference in opinion between the North and the South, that’s not to say all the differences have been settled.

It’s easy for us know-it-all Yankees from the North to sit in judgment of the perceived errors of our brethren in the South – so let’s get started.

Because even if we disregard the occasional confederate flag flying from a state capitol, there’s still some seriously offensive stuff going on below the Mason-Dixon. And this isn’t a joke.

Before we start heaping blame on the idiocracy running the state of Georgia (we’ll get there…), let’s take a look at some good news coming out of the South this week.

In Texas, Republican Governor Rick Perry pushed aside objections from the legislator and the far right and ordered vaccinations against the sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV) for all the schoolgirls in his state.

Under the Governor’s order, Texas will become the first state in the nation to require vaccinations against HPV for all schoolgirls aged 11 and 12 years old. The sexually-transmitted HPV virus is proven to lead to Cervical Cancer in young women. Perry’s order tracked recommendations from the Atlanta based-Center for Disease Control, will likely lead to the saving of many lives and a significant savings in medical costs, but was still met with harsh criticism from conservative allies, who claim that the vaccination could lead to increased promiscuity.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is festering down in Georgia, where despite the best efforts of a dedicated pro-bono defense attorney, 19-year-old former honor student, prom king, football star and potential Ivy League student Genarlow Wilson sits rotting in prison for the crime of not having sex, at least in a traditional sense.

A case that has gathered steam after coverage from espn.com, Anderson Cooper 360, ABC Primetime and the Washington Post, Wilson was convicted at the age of 17 of aggravated child molestation. He will serve ten years with no possibility of parole; he will be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Wilson made an error in judgment – an error that around 50 percent of most 17 year olds have made. He participated in consensual oral sex with a 15 year old classmate. And while it could be argued that the girl was more of an aggressor than a victim, and while both participants were willing and underage - antiquated, backwoods, bass-ackwards Georgia law is quite clear on this subject. The male is the aggressor – a felony sex offender – and the female is the victim.

This would be funny if weren’t true – but the most backwards aspect of all is the fact that if the two had engaged in consensual “traditional” intercourse – well, that’s only a misdemeanor.

At the trial, the female participant testified on Wilson’s behalf. It wasn’t his fault, she said. The jury felt bad for Wilson, but according to instructions from the judge, there was no room for interpretation in Georgia law. Wilson was found guilty.

According to the (white) prosecutor, Wilson is serving ten years because of selfish pride. See, the magnanimous prosecutor offered Wilson a deal – admit you’re a sex offender, plead guilty, and we’ll give you four years in the slammer. What a deal for an honor-roll athlete with no criminal priors.

Since the Wilson case has garnered attention, the legislature in Georgia has changed Wilson’s “crime” to a misdemeanor – if he were convicted today, he wouldn’t do any time. Unfortunately for Wilson, the legislature, in its infinite wisdom, declined to make the law retroactive – so Wilson continues to pay for the ridiculous law that has since been changed.

He’s now 20. His scholarship is gone; his high school football rival Calvin Johnson will likely be a top-five pick in the NFL draft in April. The female “victim” is in college.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s attorney works on, pushing through dead end after dead end.

According to an espn.com article, no one thinks Wilson, now referred to as “inmate #1187055”, should be in prison. The prosecutors don’t. The Supreme Court doesn’t. The legislature doesn’t. The “victim” doesn’t. The forewoman of the jury doesn’t. Even prison officials don’t. But nobody will take action, and the buck continues to be passed.

And because of this ridiculous law and the inaction of everyone involved, a once promising Ivy League-bound young man continues to pay for a law based on a century old moral platitude.

I don’t really know how to sum this one up. One step forward, one leap back comes to mind. It’s amazing how time passes and things change, yet things remain the same. To sign a petition asking the prosecutor to free Genarlow Wilson, visit www.wilsonappeal.com. To follow links to the news stories mentioned in this piece, visit www.lakestevensjournal.com/editor’s_blog/blog.html.

Kevin Hulten is the former Managing Editor of the Lake Stevens Journal and currently works for the Washington State Senate in Olympia. Send feedback or ideas to kevin.hulten@gmail.com.

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