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New York lawmaker to propose citywide ban on perp walks

By Nina Golgowski
  • City Council member drafting proposal to outlaw "perp walk" in New York City
  • Lawmaker says media harms presumption of innocence until found guilty
  • Bloomberg recants opinion on walk
  • Freelance photographer says ban will damage Freedom of the Press

New York (CNN) -- A New York councilman says he has submitted a legislative draft to ban the "perp walk" throughout New York, outlawing the photography of criminal suspects before due process of law.

The so-called "perp walk," short for perpetrator, has taken hits following the wildly publicized Manhattan arrest of former International Monetary Fund Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in May for charges of sexual acts and abuse inside a hotel.

Strauss-Kahn pleaded not guilty to those charges, but was paraded for the media, escorted by police, cuffed and unshaven. Widely circulated photos of the "perp walk" portray him in a guilty light, said Councilman David Greenfield of Brooklyn.

"You have to allow those individuals to have the appearance of innocence," Greenfield said.

Even Mother Teresa would look guilty if shackled for a crime, he said.

"After you've been convicted they can engage in a walk of shame," Greenfield said.

He believes any effort made by police departments to publicize the suspect -- informing media outlets of the arrest or scheduling an appearance -- "is simply unacceptable" and creates "a media circus" around someone who may later be found innocent by the court of law.

Some disagree, however.

"We have been walking prisoners out of the front doors of station houses for 150 years in this police department," New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday.

It is the media's decision, not the police's, to stake out a location where someone is taken out of a police station, Kelly said.

Currently there is no law against showing suspects cuffed in New York, but in an apparent about-face, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday he considers the perp walk "outrageous."

"But that's only my view," he said. "Nobody's asked me and I have no say in it what so ever."

This is in contrast with comments he made in May defending the practice.

"I think that it is humiliating but you know, if you don't want to do the perp walk, don't do the crime. I don't have a lot of sympathy for that," Bloomberg said in May.

Tony South, a freelance news photographer who estimates he has captured a thousand "perp walks," said police departments will generally tip off news media of perp walks.

Banning the public perp walk would hurt freedom of the press, he said.

"All you're really doing is keeping people informed," he said.

Being in handcuffs "doesn't mean you're guilty of anything," he said.

"But I will tell you one thing," South said, "I've always thought: What if I were on the other side of the camera, how would I feel?"

Pausing, he said, "I'll be honest, I don't know."

Greenfield said he hopes to introduce the legislation to the city council when it's back in session at the end of July. He said his constituents support the legislation which they have called, "fundamentally unfair, discriminatory, and unconstitutional."