Not What They Expected

Photo from the Prince George's County Police press release discussed below

Photo from the Prince George’s County Police press release discussed below

Back in January I wrote,

Until the advent of the internet, those who suffer from the sick need to control other people’s sexuality…must have felt that…they would always be able to suppress sex workers…But…the arrival of…social media gave…widely-scattered sex worker rights groups a way to connect easily and cheaply in real time, resulting in an explosion of activism…prohibitionists…too, could use social media, and…formed a global anti-sex movement dedicated to the extirpation of all legal sex work and the absolute suppression of all sex workers…robbing whores of our livelihood, subjecting us to ill-treatment by police, caging us, abducting our children and subjecting us to brainwashing in the hopes of reprogramming us into obedient menials is depicted by the prohibitionists as “rescuing” us from our own choices…But starting in the summer of 2012, the tide began to slowly turn in our favor; though the Swedish model and “anti-trafficking” legislation are still being imposed in more places, several UN agencies and a growing number of health and human rights organizations are coming out in favor of decriminalization, and the voices of sex workers are gradually beginning to be heard above the prohibitionist din…

In March of 2013, the #whenantisattack Twitter hashtag drew considerable media attention to the moral crusaders’ hypocrisy, then last January’s #NotYourRescueProject hashtag (described in the essay quoted above) drew even more despite the fact that “prohibitionists were frantically attempting damage control by interjecting their own myths, denunciations and accusations (the sex workers were really ‘pimps’ or clients, were ‘not representative’, etc) into the stream…”  But this month we accomplished something which drew even more attention and also had concrete results:  we stopped a “prostitution sting” from harming even one person.  It all started on May 1st with this press release from the police department of Prince George’s County, Maryland (suburban Washington, DC):

We won’t tell you when or where, other than it’s somewhere in the county sometime next week.  The PGPD’s Vice Unit will conduct a prostitution sting that targets those soliciting prostitutes and we’ll tweet it out as it happens.  From the ads to the arrests, we’ll show you how the PGPD is battling the oldest profession.  Suspect photos and information will be tweeted.  We’re using this progressive, and what we believe [sic] unprecedented, social media tactic to warn any potential participants that this type of criminal behavior is not welcome in Prince George’s County.

Despite the now-obligatory “end demand” pap, the release clearly announces that it’s “battling the oldest profession” and the illustration above (which originally accompanied the story) made it pretty clear who “is not welcome” in Prince George’s County.  As soon as sex workers started attacking the plan (less than an hour later), “police media relations director” Julie Parker realized that she had made a horrible mistake by revealing the cops’ real motivations; she immediately removed the picture and began demonstrating her cluelessness (and her low opinion of our intelligence and morals) by insisting that the operation would only be targeting clients (apparently imagining that sex workers would be pleased by an attack on our livelihood).  Within hours, we had completely taken over the cops’ own hashtag, #PGPDVice, and were using it to tell the truth; the media quickly took note:

…It’s mystifying that the police would think that live-tweeting a sting would get them any good publicity.  After all, it was just last week that the New York Police Department saw its attempt at Twitter outreach go terribly, when they tried to start the hashtag #myNYPD to get pictures of people hanging out with the cops and instead got inundated with stories of people who had been targeted by stop-and-frisk and racial profiling…

When reporters started calling Ms. Parker, she immediately spewed out the usual police idiocy:

…Parker said…the department looks at prostitution “not simply as prostitution — that crime has the potential and [sic] very often leads to other crimes.  If you think of marijuana as a gateway drug, you can think of prostitution as a gateway crime…”

The next day, Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic wrote,

…PGPD won’t be embarrassing convicts.  They’re going to publicly shame suspects before their trial, despite the fact that the state is supposed to extend to them the presumption of innocence until a jury of their peers finds them guilty.  Do the citizens in Prince George’s County really want to instill in their police officers the attitude that they can mete out punishment from the street?…Do [kids]  deserve the inevitable moment when their middle school classmates mock them for the photo of their dad making the rounds?  Do the wives…deserve a Twitter campaign on top of the arrest?…Twitter’s rules state, “You may not engage in targeted abuse or harassment.”  If I parked across the street from a prostitute’s house, photographed the johns as they exited, and tweeted their names and photographs, would a Twitter overseer stop me?…if the answer is yes, then Twitter should stop the PGPD…

We were already making plans to report every tweet they released on the subject as abuse, and the National Center for Transgender Equality produced a blog post suggesting a number of things supporters could tweet during the event to flood the hashtag, when the cops cried “uncle” and called off the planned live-tweeting after it became abundantly clear that their evil scheme to turn people into involuntary entertainment had backfired.  Of course, they tried to spin it to make themselves look like geniuses of applied psychology:

…the unit arrests five to 10 johns during similar operations.  Today, no johns were arrested…“By advertising this days ago, we wanted to put johns on notice to not come to Prince George’s County.  That message was heard loud and clear.  We just put a dent in the human trafficking business without making one arrest,” said [Head Vice Thug] Dave Coleman…Due to the international attention to this publicized sting…our undercover officers became increasingly concerned about the potential compromise of their identities.  Those concerns prompted the department to change course…our Vice Unit…is dedicated to shutting down this type of illicit business and seeking help for its victims…

Lest you believe the claims that they only want to “help” those they portray as “victims”, let’s look at the less-polished statement of department spokesman Bill Alexander:  “We never said we were going to do anything related to the prostitutes or the sex workers or whatever the politically correct term is…”  Cut.  Print.  That’s all this talk of “johns” and “victims” really is:  filling in the right “politically correct” blank to justify business as usual, which for vice cops is brutalizing people for peaceful, private, consensual behavior.  They haven’t yet learned that the days of that business model are numbered, and that the wind has already begun to shift against them.  But you can bet that they eventually will, and that they’ll fight to maintain the ugly, brutal status quo every step of the way.

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