The scarlet license plate

Forward to the past

If Hawthorne were writing today, Hester Prynne would be forced to put the scarlet A on her license plates instead of wearing it on her breast. Sadly, there is a growing movement aimed at finding new ways to mark and shun people, creating an "untouchables" caste in American society.

sex-offender plate

The latest example comes from Ohio where lawmakers in the state legislature have proposed that convicted sex offenders be forced to use a fluorescent green license plate on their cars. An Ohio sheriff who joined the press conference to hype the proposal said, "It will give Ohio families a great peace of mind knowing that their children will be able to recognize where this danger exists" (Reuters).

Ohio DUI plates

Ohio already has a special license plate for convicted drunk drivers. Similar measures have been proposed in several other states, including Florida and California.

This is simply pandering to fears. Certainly people who commit crimes against other people should be held accountable. But society does not benefit by driving some of its members to the margins, making them a target for suspicion for ever and ever. Look, Jesus even forgave Judas.

Beyond that, I think one would be hard pressed to find evidence that stigmatizing people helps them reform or acts as a deterent. Those green and yellow plates would be about as effective as those yellow "Baby on Board" signs that were so popular a few years ago. "I feel like rear-ending someone. Oops, not that car, it's got a baby on board." Give me a break.

But if you're going to pander, just think of the possibilities! For example, a drunken sex offender could be given a license plate of both green and yellow. Arsonists could be given orange and red plates evocative of flames. A veritable rainbow of color-coded stigma could be produced.

drunken driver Drunken driver
drunken sex offender Drunken sex offender
arsonist Arsonist
Commie sympathizer

I'd like to suggest one more identifying plate, this one for the knuckleheads who think this is a good idea.

neanderthal Neanderthal