One U.S. City Wants to Punish You for a Crime You Didn’t Commit

Simply being on the same block as a sex worker might soon land you in hot water.

Did you ever read in a sci-fi novel, or maybe watch a movie like oh, say, Minority Report, where citizens arre arrested for simply thinking about breaking the law? It seems as though the future might be closer than we think, and not in a good way.

CBS LA reports that the Los Angeles City Council is currently considering a measure that would send letters to the homes of men who they think might be soliciting prostitutes, particularly in the San Fernando Valley district. 

Now, predictive policing — using data to pinpoint “likely” criminals — has been an area of interest for law enforcement agencies for some time now, but let me explain the italics above. Using automated license plate readers, government officials would identify so-called “Johns” and then send them cease and desist letters, hoping, perhaps, that wives, girlfriends, might open the letters, further shaming them. But couldn’t it be possible that you might be driving through one of these neighborhoods, or even stopping your car there, for completely legitimate, absolutely legal reasons? Apparently not, considering that the City Attorney’s office is actually examining the proposal at this time.

This isn’t just sketchy law enforcement, but a waste of taxpayer money. “[Lawmakers] seek to use municipal funds to take action against those guilty of nothing other than traveling legally on city streets,” notes Nick Selby on Medium, “then access the state-funded Department of Motor Vehicle registration records to resolve the owner data, then use municipal moneys to write, package and pay the United States Postal Service to deliver a letter that is at best a physical manifestation of the worst kind of Digital McCarthyism.” The law wants to finger you even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

More importantly, it’s using public money to shame citizens over what’s inherently a private matter. The Washington Post  rightly points out that these letters won’t result in a jail sentence themselves, but no one has yet to address the fact that soliciting sex outside of a marriage might not be the be-all end-all we’re making it out to be. Today, marriages come in many manifestations, and many couples have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” arrangement when it comes to extra-marital affairs. Prosecute people for actually breaking the law, fine, but it’s no one’s job to become the equivalent of a playground tattletale, bursting into our homes to tell our families that we were out past curfew in a place we “shouldn’t be.”

Photos by Michael Venera / Getty Images