Saturday, August 31, 2002

Crime on Discovery©

Tonight I witnessed a two shows on The Discovery Channel©, both of which concerned themselves with police operations designed to rid their communities of the scourge of prostitution. These programs showed police officers posing as either prostitutes or johns. These "sting" operations play out as stylized dances, much like a Japanese kabuki play, with special vocabulary and a certain order in which the various acts leading up to the arrest are performed. Both the cops and the criminals play out their parts as if reading from the same script. It was fascinating to me, and I had to watch until it was over.

Laws against so-called "victimless" crimes, such as prostitution, and the trade in some drugs, make no sense to me, and there is no shortage of erudite discussions of the uselessness and waste of these laws in libertarian circles. I read yesterday that the U.S. prison, parole, and probation population now exceeds six million, a national shame that puts this nation among the most repressive regimes in known history. It is not my intention to reprise those discussions here, now. What struck me tonight was the coarsening of the lives of the police officers who were forced, through a career choice previously made, to participate in the destruction of the lives of the men and women portrayed in these shows, brought on by these stings. The officers themselves, in some instances, commented upon the futility of it all. Yet, they were the stars of the show.

I have known quite a few cops, and many were drawn to the profession by the highest of ideals, to "make a difference," or to fulfill a family tradition. I never met a woman who went into ploice work in order to pose as a prostitute, to take advantage of an otherwise law-abiding man at a vulnerable moment. The women in these shows did not seem to take any special joy in dressing up as a tart and enticing these men into their trap. They seemed to me to be embarrassed by it all.

I wonder where we as a society are headed, when record numbers of citizens are locked up for acts that the enforcers themselves are uncomfortable condemning. Where is the constituency for penalizing masses of citizens for seeking comfort in the arms of a stranger, or smoking a joint, or seeking to pay the household bills through exploiting the sex act? I wonder if any rational solution will emerge and prevail in the area of "victimless" crimes. I have been to countries where these acts are not crimes, and the local population does not see harm in it. I have not met many Americans who see any harm in it. At the same time, where is the outrage? We do seem to be taking little baby steps toward decriminalization of marijuana, and that's a start. I just hope that momentum builds for a return of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

It wasn't so long ago that prostitution was legal here. Drugs were legal here. Guns, even on airplanes, were legal here. These things were banned during a benighted period of our history. Let's hope for, and work for, a return to the values that made our country great. Great men like Thomas Jefferson helped to create a nation where freedom was the greatest goal of government. Over time, smaller men and women, to advance their careers in the corridors of power, have chipped away at those freedoms. Let us strive to create a path for these freedoms to return. Small acts, such as turning Bob Barr, a rabid prohibitionist, out of power, send a message to the rest of the re-election seekers. I pray that they think of Bob the next time thay are called upon to vote on a piece of legislation that will assuage a small part of the electorate, by penalizing all the rest. They should think that an even larger constituency exists that will vote for the candidate who will support freedom. I believe that it does.