Commentary forum 09/15/10

What’s the big deal?

By Benjamin Tomkins

Benjamin Tomkins

I cannot for the life of me figure out why Craigslist is taking so much crap over people using their adult section as a front for prostitution. Firstly, the attorneys general should be thanking them for providing a well-organized list of possible leads. Secondly, Craigslist isn’t doing anything that your average newspaper anywhere isn’t doing and Craigslist is most certainly just a giant classifieds section. They receive requests to publish ads, and unless those ads overtly violate their personal policies or the law, they publish them. I mean, look at the back quarter of any alternative paper. It’s solid massage parlors, escort services, and chat lines that basically advertise getting laid. For free. With a consenting adult. Of course…

Obviously some of these places are fronting for prostitution and whatever else, but we don’t really do the “Now, we can’t prove it, but down here we all know what these people are up to,” argument in court. Well, Texas does, but Texas sucks, and we used to do that kind of thing to black and poor people back when we were an ignorant, infantile country that believed that everyone who wasn’t white and middle class was the seed of Cain. Thankfully we’ve heeded the call of progress and realized, as Jefferson so eloquently put it, that “laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened…and manners and opinions change…institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” As a result, these days we mostly limit ourselves to terrorizing Mexicans, because Mexicans are different. I mean, we can’t prove it, but down here we all know that a Mexican wearing a certain kind of shoes is most likely up to no good.

The point is, to understand the value of a good classifieds section you have to realize and accept that freedom of the press is integrally tied to a presumption of innocence, a right to privacy, and due process of law, and, while not explicitly illegal censorship, the behavior of the attorneys general displays a healthy disrespect for those rights. Newspapers are one of our most valuable tools for disseminating information and voicing our opinions. Consequently, if a publisher like Craigslist has no reason to suspect from the verbiage of an ad that its content is contributing to illegal activities, it would actually be unethical to arbitrarily single out as a raving pervert one perfectly unassuming dude who just wants to buy some cheap, sexy livestock. What if he’s a guy who just likes to spoon veal? Sure he’s weird, but I’m afraid that weird doesn’t meet our standards of illegality, and by god it’s a bloody good thing too. Think of all the bizarre crap you do behind closed doors which could easily be misconstrued as deviant if the law didn’t extend you the courtesy of privacy and the burden of proof.

Besides, what’s the alternative? Holding Craigslist responsible for people who commit crimes that the attorneys general themselves can’t even legally pretend to foresee? I sure hope not, because at that point you are saying that we should hold the attorneys general responsible every time they release a suspect due to lack of evidence and then that suspect commits a crime, and I reeeeally don’t think we want to start jailing people indefinitely over a hunch. Or maybe we do. I suppose I shouldn’t make assumptions about other people’s intentions, but honestly, that’s analogous to saying that the Yellow Pages is criminally complicit with every business listing it publishes that turns out to be a front. Fine, let’s play that game. I have opened the Denver phone book to “massage parlor.” And the first listing? “A Beautiful Blonde.” Yeah. Sure. I’m going to use my personal discretion and go somewhere else because I don’t want my face splattered all over the front page of the Denver Post after a police sting, but legally there’s absolutely nothing about that business name that is intrinsically worthy of a search warrant.

Look, the bottom line is, there’s a damn good reason our legal system treats us like we just divorced everyone else in the country. There’s simply no other way to do it and still have universal rights. As much as you might personally feel outraged that this Craigslist situation exists, it doesn’t justify making exceptions to the Constitution because it satisfies your selfish and irrational sense of self-righteousness. And the fact that the head lawyers in multiple states seem to think that that’s OK, is much more perverse than anything in those ads.

Benjamin Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist
and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

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