Mommy, there is a man in the restroom

Lincoln MorenoYesterday, I had the opportunity to see D-Day Normandy 1944 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This movie discussed Operation Overlord, otherwise known as the Battle of Normandy. On that day, the longest day, the allies lost countless lives. Memorial Day is an important tribute to those who have given their lives for our freedom and liberty.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution contains the Equal Protection Clause that prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. So, why would Annise Parker, in her last term, champion an equal rights ordinance, especially when our Constitution covers discrimination? Could it be that this is simply a slight of hand, a distraction for the true purpose? Maybe Exxon wasn’t enough and she wants to run every business out of town? Why would she say that the ordinance was created in response to a Washington Avenue bar denying entry to a black man but never discuss the ordinance with NAACP leaders?

I have followed much of the local reporting on Parker’s edict and I feel like many people are missing the bigger picture. One of the basic government functions is public protection. The government is tasked with providing police, fire, and ambulance for the general public. Also, the government should pass laws that assist public safety. So, how would Parker’s policy affect public safety?

Imagine that you are the parent of a young child. After church, your family visits a local restaurant and your daughter needs to use the restroom. You take her to the bathroom. Inside, there are two small, narrow stalls; so, you send your daughter into one of the stalls as you stand guard outside. Your daughter is speaking, but you can’t quite understand her words. Just then, you see a man peering under the bathroom stall and staring at your four-year-old daughter as she uses the restroom. You think this is fiction? Think again.

On a Sunday morning in October 2010, Lincoln Moreno, a serial peeper, was looking at a four-year-old girl as she used the bathroom at Café Express in Meyerland. The child told her mother, “Mommy, there is a man in the restroom.” The mother did not see anything at first. Then, she looked down and saw a shadow of a head underneath the stall and a bag. Once captured, law enforcement discovered that the man had electrical tape, duct tape, a sock with a pacifier, a plastic bag, and a recording device.

Moreno also has a lengthy criminal history. This was his eighteenth criminal trespass conviction in Harris County. He has a prior conviction for indecency with a child. After he was arrested for the Café Express peeping, several of his relatives came forward and said that he molested them in the past.

Since Moreno was not using the recording device, the only crime on the books that fit the facts of Moreno’s voyeuristic conduct was criminal trespass and that, in itself, failed to result in adding Moreno to the sex offender registry.  State Representative Garnet Coleman publicly decried this “serious flaw in our system” because the “punishment didn’t fit the crime.” Garnet Coleman said that he wanted to create a new legal penalty for peeping in a restroom that defined the offense as a sex crime. Coleman told reporters at the time that these crimes are “most often committed against women and children.” “Individuals who grotesquely and repeatedly violate an individual’s privacy during a private moment should be on the registry.”

In 2011, Coleman sponsored House Bill 2822, which amended the criminal laws relating to disorderly or lewd conduct in a public place. This bill was lost in committee. Today, the law remains unchanged.

During the 83rd Legislative Session, in 2013, Garnet Coleman, instead of taking up the Lincoln Moreno matter, authored House Bill 3324, which added the words “gender identity or expression” to the penal code. This language would enhance an offender’s punishment if the crime was committed with this specific bias or prejudice. This bill was left pending in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

Given this context, the obvious question of the day is whether the equal rights ordinance now provides a defense (or a cover) for people like Lincoln Moreno. Is this equal rights ordinance the type of liberty that men and women have sacrificed their lives for? Doesn’t the Constitution already cover equal rights and discrimination? Shouldn’t the focus be on protecting women and children? Should this equal rights ordinance be made law before we make laws to protect children from Lincoln Moreno? As the city council members vote on this ordinance, they need to think about Lincoln Moreno and his victims.

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