Hey France, You Are Right About the Perp Walk

The pre-trial practice of parading those accused of criminal conduct before the press is terribly prejudicial and unfair

Andrew Cohen


Of all the discordant notes that have been sounded since the arrest last week of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the most disappointing may have come from Michael Bloomberg. Of the now famous "perp walk" of the world’s most famous rape suspect, the mayor of New York City said: "I think it is humiliating, but you know if you don’t want to do the perp walk, don’t do the crime." Then, perhaps sensing that he had gone too far in prematurely adjudging Strauss-Kahn guilty, the mayor added: "The real sad thing is if someone is accused and does the perp walk and turns out not to be guilty, then society really ought to look in the mirror."

Relax, society, and move away from the mirror. Whether Strauss-Kahn ends up being convicted or acquitted or something in between, most Americans don’t need to look in the mirror or otherwise answer to furious French officials — or anyone else — for the policy and practice behind the "perp walk." The parading of a criminal suspect in front of the cameras shortly after an arrest, almost always in handcuffs, is not a societal problem like eating too much sugar or playing too many violent video games. It is not a national epidemic like sexting or reality television or methamphetamines or "meat-lovers" pizzas. It’s not like the deficit or carbon emissions.You aren’t responsible (unless you’ve convicted someone of a felony because you thought he looked guilty during his perp walk).

The perpetrator’s walk instead is the result of one of the most cynical conspiracies in all of modern-day criminal justice. It is an officially-sanctioned and eternally re-enacted plot between the media and the police, the overt act of which benefits both parties  — and prosecutors as well — at the expense of the suspect. It is done so flawlessly and routinely now that hardly anyone in America even realizes anymore how prejudicial and unfair it is to a defendant. We simply take it for granted today that the public image of a presumedly innocent person can lawfully be manipulated by the government and its agents. That’s why so many of us were so surprised when the French expressed outrage over the way Strauss-Kahn was treated after his arrest. Sometimes, it takes an outsider to see clearly the truth.

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