The perp walk has long been a part of the legal process that has generated great interest for the media, especially elements in the media with a propensity for sensationalism and less than honorable journalistic compasses. What is the so called “perp walk?” We see it happen all the time on our television, but the perp walk–”perp” being short for perpetrator–is the public walking and/or escorting of those who have been arrested or charged in the court of law. The cause for this charge to eliminate the controversial element of the process that, according to New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, is a tradition that has been around for approximately a century and a half. Kelly argues that there is no controlling where media personnel choose to set up shop in order to get footage for television that the general viewing audience will, unfortunately, eat up with alacrity.
While Commissioner Kelly does make a valid point, those on the other side present equally cogent arguments against the long-standing practice, particularly in light of the hoopla surrounding the Strauss-Kahn case. Dominic Strauss-Kahn, the French former IMF Chief charged with the sexual assault of a New York City hotel maid, was ultimately found innocent. However, this was not until after he was put through several of the aforementioned walks, putting him front and center in all of the most prominent online and print media. Whether or not one trusts the verdict that the legal system has handed down, he was found innocent, and yet, his reputation has been irrevocably sullied. Perp walks are undeniably a significant factor in that degradation of his image across the globe. Mayor Bloomberg agrees, calling the practice “outrageous.” The practice is not only damaging to the reputation of those who haven’t necessarily been proven to have done any wrong, it also turns the legal process into a circus that is unbelievably embarrassing to everyone looking for real news and not sensationalist images of people in handcuffs being paraded out of police stations and courthouses.
Of course, there are those who argue that to ban the media from being present during perp walks is an infringement of freedom of the press: these people are correct. Additionally, there are ways of making the times for perp walks in more publicized cases less well-known to the media at large. In the end, the ban should not be passed simply for the fact that freedom of the press is one of this nation’s most prized rights. At the same time, that does not make the practice any less palatable for the portion of the viewing audience that turns on the news to see news rather than glorified paprazzi posing as reporters and journalists.
Contains information from CNN.