Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Degradation Ceremony

Innocent Until Your Mugshot Is On The Internet:

We can guess at why we want to see the photos of the famous facing legal trouble, or rubberneck at Mr. Medlin’s transformation — as powerful an antidrug yarn as Nancy Reagan could ever have spun.
Yeah, for the same reason people slow up at traffic accidents.
Why, though, did we see the images in the first place?
The simple answer is as routine as the booking photo itself: They’re public documents.
There’s a more complicated answer, too, since the United States professes a belief in blind justice while eagerly distributing photos of its accused. It’s not that police departments in England and Canada don’t collect photographs of people they’ve arrested; they just release them only on occasion, such as when there’s a jailbreak or a murder suspect on the loose. As Eddie Townsend, spokesman for the City of London Police, put it: “It goes back to the principle of innocent until proven guilty.”
Which publishing mugshots immediately contradicts: once your mug is out there online, in the newspaper, or collected in these sleazy publications designed specifically for mugshots, the presumption is guilt, even if you are, in fact, innocent of the charges for which you've been arrested.
Most states don’t limit their distribution, and some police departments believe putting out these images is an important part of transparency and serving their communities. Sheriff’s offices in large and tiny counties alike now post mug shots to slick, constantly updated websites. Under its former sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County, Ariz., even held a contest in which visitors voted on a mug shot of the day.
Local TV affiliates present them in slide shows, and crime-fighting social media groups use them to identify people connected to local crimes. The Smoking Gun website assembles them into all manner of categories, including “cleavage,” “fogeys” and “B-List.”
Privately run online databases like arrests.org let readers tag and comment on them, while Jailbase shuffles them through a smartphone app. Some sites have been described as extortion operations, posting booking photographs online, then charging exorbitant removal fees.
Free expungement clinics help the more desperate scrub their criminal records, while companies like EraseMugshots.com offer “removal” services for a fee. Lawmakers in more than a dozen states have tried reeling in the more pernicious practices of some mug shot entrepreneurs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Which is nice and all, but the legislatures could also ban the dissemination of said mugshots and be done with it. There is no 1st amendment right to access or publish a mugshot, anymore than there's a 1st amendment right to access or publish police evidence of a crime scene. 

The recent arrest of Tiger Woods in Jupiter, Florida, and the disgraceful release of both his mugshot and booking videos, is enough to turn the stomach. Ludicrously, the Jupiter PD spokes-hack said releasing them was "standard practice because they are public documents." Right, and if they'd beaten the shit out of Woods during the arrest, I'm sure that would have been released immediately as well because it's "standard practice...public documents."
Why are people so obsessed with these photos? A Rutgers sociologist, Sarah Esther Lageson, who has been studying the explosion of digital mug shots for nearly a decade, said they offer a view not just into the darker recesses of someone’s life but also into an essential government process that many of us never see or experience.
Professor Lageson interviewed 27 people at Minnesota expungement clinics over two years beginning in 2014 and found that people whose mug shots were easily available online had been fired and rejected from jobs — or afraid to even apply in the first place. One woman had been unable to find decent housing; another was kicked out of her church.
Most of the people Professor Lageson interviewed didn’t bother contacting the sites that were publishing their images. Some thought it wouldn’t do any good, given the official-sounding language some sites used. Consider Mugshots.com, which describes itself as a “search engine for Official Law Enforcement Records” — a mission it says is protected by an assortment of federal and state laws and two constitutional amendments.
Not everyone has been chastened by this legalistic language, though. In Illinois, three men seeking class-action status filed a suit last year describing the site as an extortion racket that, among other things, routinely published out-of-date or inaccurate information for a single purpose: to drive people to a prominently advertised “sister” site — unpublisharrest.com — which charged from $399 (to remove a single arrest) to $1,799 (for five).
A lawyer representing Mugshots.com, David Ferrucci, denied this. He said that the site is as much a crime blog as anything else. He pointed to its aggregated posts about accused sexual predators and murderers, and compared it to The Chicago Tribune’s “Mugs in the news.”
Besides, Mr. Ferrucci added, shouldn’t the focus be on the draconian elements of our justice system? “Instead of shooting the messenger, the purveyor of the public records, maybe we should lessen the impact of the prison industrial complex,” he said. “That’s really the tragedy here — how easy it is to get arrested.”
Talk about shooting the messenger, Dave. "Hey, if you don't want to end up on our website, don't get arrested by the police." And it has nothing to do with the prison-industrial complex, trust me, and everything to do with the rackets and scams these clowns are purveying. 

Interesting sidebar: the owners of these mugshot publications and websites go to extreme lengths to conceal and scrub from the 'net their own identities. I wonder why?
Sites like Mugshots.com aren’t the only ones fighting for continued, broad access to booking photos. In 2013, The Detroit Free Press sued the Justice Department after it refused to release mug shots of four police officers accused of corruption. Federal authorities have considered the release of a booking photograph an invasion of privacy, and in its ruling last year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, overruling a 1996 decision that allowed the release.
The Free Press appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court; last month, the court declined to hear the case.
Still, dozens of news organizations and press advocacy groups backed the newspaper up in court, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. A lawyer there, Adam Marshall, described the mug shot as a memorialization of one of the most important processes of the criminal justice system — the arrest. What if the police arrested the wrong person? What if the officer assaulted that person? “The public expects information from the government about what they’re doing,” Mr. Marshall said. “The photo provides the public with that information in a way that a name doesn’t.”
Do you really think the police would release the mugshot of a suspect they got over on? Or the video of said beating? If these things (and worse, police shootings) aren't caught by private citizens on their phones, you won't see them ever.

That's the point: it's completely arbitrary what they choose to release and not release, and that very randomness is why the process should be eliminated completely.

It's more than a "memorialization" going on;  it's what Garfinkel described in his work as good old fashioned Degradation Ceremony. The release of the mugshot (only certain ones, mind you) is part of the way we degrade the suspect's identity, stigmatizing the individual so as to change permanently both their social identity ("sorry, you've been turned down the job, we checked the interwebs") and personal identity ("they say I'm a criminal, therefore I must be a criminal").

It's no different than publishing the names or pictures of crime victims: we don't, generally, because it's recognized as revictimizing them. And that's all you're doing here, revictimizing people who, more than likely, simply made a mistake.
Which gets us back to the original point: whether this person is ever found guilty of said charge is irrelevant (and oddly, never "publicly released" to the media). The morbid, under-educated obsession with these pictures is indicative of our unforgiving, brain-dead culture...a way to make you feel better about your own pathetic life by having a good laugh at the mistakes of others.

Police departments should stop releasing mugshots unless there is a viable public safety reason to do so (as the article mentions, jail breaks, suspects on the run, etc.). 

And the bottom-feeders who publish the garbage, the cretins who extort people desperate to have their pictures scrubbed, and the podunk online newspapers and sheriff's departments who use the blotter as click bait, should all be put out of business. 

Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court may be moving precisely in that direction.

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