Alton Sterling: When a Sex Offender Gets a Candlelight Vigil

It takes the shock of an unjust death to remind us that sex offenders can be people who are good men.


Alton Sterling
Monica Jorge/Sipa USA/Newscom

Only in death, it seems, can a person on the sex offender registry be considered a human worthy of love and sympathy.

Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old Baton Rouge man who was peddling CDs when he was shot by two police officers on Tuesday, was described by his friends quoted in this Reuters report as "a fun-loving guy" who was also a hardworking dad "who scraped together a living selling music recorded on compact discs."

"He was a very nice guy, always smiling and laughing," said Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the store Sterling worked in front of.

"I'd never seen him get out of hand with anyone," said a woman who had just bought a CD from Sterling. 

A woman at a vigil for Sterling called him a "good man," who "never bothered anyone."

Eleven paragraphs into what is truly an affecting portrait of a well-loved man gunned down in his prime, we learn that:

According to the Louisiana Department of Corrections, Sterling was convicted in 2000 for a crime against a minor that led him to spend about four years in prison and be registered as a sex offender.

A court document reviewed by Reuters showed that he was accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl and impregnating her when he was 20.

What's amazing to me is that usually when we hear of sex offenders who had sex with someone underage, we see them as a incorrigible monsters. They can't live near a park. They can't hand out Halloween candy. They are sometimes not even allowed to walk their own children to school. Their humanity is completely obliterated, even if they have served their time and are now loving dads getting up and going to work. We attempt to welcome back most citizens returning home from prison. But sex offenders we treat as permanently toxic.

Just today I read about a mom so incensed that her daughter's school bus lets her off in front of a sex offender's home that she is transferring her daughter out of the school. This, even though of the nearly one million people on the sex offender registry, the vast majority will never commit a sex offense again. 

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rate of any criminals other than murderers.

It seems to take the shock of an unjust death to remind us that sex offenders can be people who are good men, kind neighbors, guys who make us laugh.

People worthy of a second chance.

It would be nice if we remembered that all the time.