Thursday, November 19, 2009
The perp walk
One of the time-honored traditions of law enforcement is the perp walk, where the authorities parade the guilty party in front of the cameras to show the public that they are doing their job. This is done by both the FBI and the local police.
Above left is a picture of this morning's featured perp, the "baby-faced" (according to all the newspapers) Carvett Gentles, whose stray bullet managed to find its way into the skull of innocent 17-year-old bystander Vada Vasquez.
The picture brought to mind a pattern I've observed over the past few years, whereby the law enforcement authorities seem to try to match their perps with an officer of the same race, at least while the cameras are rolling. The image of an innocent-looking young black boy, no matter how heinous his crime, being manhandled by two Dick Butkus-lookalikes is not the one that the NYPD wants to project in this racially hypersensitive age. So they carefully matched young Carvett with an older "brother" to hold his left arm.
The thinking seems to be, well, we all know that law enforcement is dominated by whites, and we all know that crime, especially violent crime, is committed disproportionately by nonwhites. But be that as it may, we have to work against the perception fostered by the media that we're just a bunch of cowboys going around looking for minorities to roust. So every time we stage a perp walk, let's make sure that we have an officer on hand who looks like the perp.
The same thinking was at work with the arrest a month ago of hedge fund billionaire Raj Rajaratnam. Evidently the FBI didn't have an ethnic Indian available, so they made do with the closest thing, an East Asian, to hold his arm for the cameras (see picture above right). The feds were able to hit the mark exactly, however, when announcing their indictment of Rajaratnam: they had U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara handle the news conference.
You know, just so no one would think they were "racist."
It's a wonderful new world we live in: if you commit a crime, you get to be arrested by your own, at least when the cameras are rolling. (No such guarantees when it comes to the unfilmed jail guards, however.) It's unclear exactly what the point of all this is, other than proving that the law enforcement authorities are exquisitely sensitive to ethnic sensibilities these days.
If you're aware of this pattern, you'll notice a lot of it. This transparent image-burnishing would actually be sort of funny if it did not reflect a deeper rot.