Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The History of the Perp Walk

It’s one of those cases that no novelist could ever have dreamed up. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a leading candidate for president of the French Republic spent last Friday night in a $3000-a-night hotel suite before being yanked out of the first-class section of an Air France flight to Paris and arrested for sex crimes that could get him many years in jail. He now sits in New York’s Rikers Island Prison, among a wide assortment of New York lowlifes, only a few miles but a world away from the Sofitel Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Dominique Strauss-Kahn has now resigned from his position at the IMF in order to devote full time to his defense and he vigorously asserts his innocence. Regardless of the eventual outcome, his political ambitions are surely at an end.

Needless to say, this how-the-mighty-are-fallen story has been a media sensation both here and in France, and will continue to be for months. Not surprisingly, reactions in France have been somewhat different than here and one major difference has been to the “perp walk,” where Strauss-Kahn was shown in handcuffs being led into court. The pictures were on the front page of papers around the world. In the United States, the perp walk is standard practice for prominent people accused of serious crimes. In France it’s illegal to print such pictures.

The perp walk has a long history in this country, going back at least to the 1930′s. Sometimes it has been a bow to intense public interest, such as with Lee Harvey Oswald after the assassination of President Kennedy, a perp walk that resulted in Oswald’s murder by Jack Ruby. But often it has been for the benefit of the prosecutor’s political ambitions. Thomas E. Dewey, when he was Manhattan District Attorney, alerted the media and then personally arrested Richard Whitney, former president of the New York Stock Exchange, for embezzlement, a case quite as sensational in 1938 as Strauss-Kahn’s has been today. And that year Dewey made his first run for governor of New York, losing only narrowly to Herbert Lehman, the popular incumbent.

At least Richard Whitney was guilty (he pled guilty and served three years in Sing-Sing—6,000 people turned out in Grand Central to watch Whitney board the train to prison). But Rudy Giuliani, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had Richard Wigton a stock trader at Kidder Peabody & Co. arrested in his office for insider trading and paraded through the company’s trading floor with Wigton in tears. He was never even brought to trial as charges were dropped. Giuliani had several principles of the Princeton/Newport firm arrested in the same fashion, but their convictions were overturned on appeal when the appellate court ruled that what they were accused of were not crimes at all. Of course, the arrests received far more press attention than did the eventual outcomes.

In short, the perp walk is hardly American justice at its best. It serves not the interests of justice but the interests of the media and ambitious politicians, while often damaging permanently the reputations of innocent people. In the age of the Internet, those photographs never go away.

The end of the perp walk would be at least one good outcome from this case.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.