Congress, Get Used to Being Near Convicts

Fired CDC Security Guard Kenneth Tate Via NYT
Fired CDC Security Guard Kenneth Tate (via NYT)

Congress’s last few months have been filled with plenty of fear mongering. Between the ISIS “menace” and the Ebola “crisis,” Congress still had some time to spend humiliating a security guard over his “criminal history” after he escorted the president at a Center for Disease Control (CDC) facility. But politicians who spent the last 40 years criminalizing everything need to get used to being near their victims.

For years, Kenneth Tate worked construction before landing a job as a security contractor for the CDC. After escorting President Obama up an elevator in September, The Washington Examiner reported that after the Secret Service ran a background check on him, they discovered Kenneth had a “criminal record.” The Washington Post followed up with a report calling him an “armed convict.”

Congress lost their minds. “You have a convicted felon within arm’s reach of the president, and they never did a background check,” railed House Government Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). “His life was in danger. This country would be a different world today if he had pulled out his gun.” The security contractor under pressure from CDC and Secret Service responded by promptly firing him.

Tate was fired and humiliated for doing nothing other than preforming his appointed duties. But to Congress, convicts are so untouchable that the mere prospect of one near them can put their lives at risk. Tate has nothing to be ashamed of. It’s Congress and the CDC who should be embarrassed at their treatment of this man.

Congress and politicians of all varieties should get used to being around convicts. After all, they have created so many of them. There are roughly 4,450 federal criminal statutes, and Congress is creating 57 new ones per year. Nearly six million Americans are felons. Misdemeanors are often not tracked, but about 65 million Americans have some sort of criminal record that shows up in criminal databases.

As it turns out, Kenneth was not a felon and actually not a convict of any kind. He had been arrested as a young man, but was not convicted. Disturbingly, his arrest record shows up on background checks, at least for the Secret Service, and it was enough to get him fired. This is despite the fact that the FBI estimates that there have been more than 250 million arrests in the U.S. since 1994. The FBI has 77.7 million people in its “master criminal database,” reports the Wall Street Journal, and adds 10,000-12,000 new names each day.

In other words, almost a third of all adults in the United States has a criminal record of some type. By age 23, up to 41 percent of Americans self-report being arrested for something other than a minor traffic violation. It’s about time that politicians got comfortable with these people. They are their constituents after all. Of course, 5.8 million of them can’t vote, so maybe they aren’t that important to them.

We are turning tens of millions of people into the untouchables of our society. Even shaking the hand of the president is enough to cost an arrestee his job, even many years after the arrest.  65 million Americans can’t get a job due to an arrest or conviction. Until Congress rectifies this situation, it should stop acting surprised when they come in contact with Americans who have had criminal interactions with the police.

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Edward Coke

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