Friday, August 8, 2008

A story for the end of the week

I read in the New Haven Advocate that New Haven's new police chief, James Lewis, has said he would print the names of johns, men caught trying to have sex with prostitutes, in the local paper. 

Solomon, the legendary king of Israel, said it first: There is nothing new under the sun. 

Read the Independent story and comments on the chief's strategy here

The story sent my memory back had to be 1978 or 1979 at the late, much-lamented Journal-Courier of New Haven newspaper. We were still at Orange and Audubon streets, before moving out to the former Gant shirt factory that the New Haven Register, which subsumed the J-C, still calls home. 

The police chief at the time, Ed Morrone, who took over for the legendary Biagio DiLieto, was trying to halt the rampant prostitution around Chapel and Howe streets in the city. 

One of his strategies was to use policewomen as decoys. The deal was, if a person approached the decoy and offered money for a specific sex act, the man would be arrested and charged with patronizing a prostitute. I think that was the charge. 

Since the potential johns didn't know whether the woman he was approaching was a real pro or a cop, that would give them second thoughts and cut down on the number potential customers. No clients, no hookers, as it were. And it worked.

At the Journal-Courier, our bosses, Editor Don Sharpe and Managing Editor Bill Guthrie, ruled that everybody's name on to the list was run if there was room. We weren't going to leave a good story out of the paper to run a johns list, but most of the time there was room.

The cardinal rule, however, was that if someone called and asked that their name be left out, especially if they threatened us or tried to bribe us or tried to use political or other influence, then we were to print that name no matter what.

One night, a phone call came in to the city desk and I picked it up. The caller was a woman and the conversation went something like this:

Woman: Is this the place that prints the names of people who are caught with prostitutes?

Me: Yes, we print the list here that we get from the cops.

Woman: Well, I'm going to get married soon and my boyfriend...well, he was on the list, I think.

Me: OK, what can I do for you?

Woman: You can tell me...I mean...

Me: Look, lady, don't ask me not to put your boyfriend's name in the paper, because they I have to put it in the paper.

Woman: No, it's not that. I need to know....well...when are they arrested? I mean do they or...

Me: Are you asking if the arrest is made before or after they actually do it...

Woman: Yes, umm, I mean, do they actually....?

Me: The woman is a police decoy. The person is arrested when they offer to pay the woman for a specific sex act.

Woman: So he didn't actually... I mean he wouldn't have...?

Me: No, he didn't have sex before he was arrested.

Woman:  Oh! Thank God!  (Click)

I was going to ask if she was still going to marry the guy but she hung up too quickly. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for their next conversation. I did ask our police reporter if anybody had been taken to hospital with injuries to their private parts. Nobody had.

As I said, this isn't a transcript, but it's pretty darn close. You don't forget a conversation like that.

I thought you'd enjoy that story from a time when downtown New Haven was wild and woolly in a different way from the way it is now. I wish Chief Lewis all the luck with this effort. It's great to see he's doing something about a crime that, although it's said to be victimless, is not. The woman, the man and the whole city are put at risk in many ways. 

Page 2

This is a special weekend for observant Jews. Tisha b'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, starts at sundown Saturday and lasts until an hour after sundown Sunday. On that day, the first and second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain after hundreds and hundreds of years of a Golden Age occurred, World War I began, leading to World War II and the Holocaust, and a lot of other horrible things occurred.

It's a fast day, a complete 25-hour fast like Yom Kippur, but it is a dark fast. People are in mourning. You may have noticed some of your friends going around unshaven and a little bit unkempt. That's part of the mourning ritual.

But tomorrow is the Sabbath and, even though the Sabbath leads directly to the fast, it is celebrated in its fullness up until the moment the fast begins. 

So have a great weekend to those of you for whom this is another summer weekend. To the members of the Tribe, a good Shabbos and an easy fast.

Until next time...

No comments: