On Friday morning, Harvey Weinstein was escorted from the 1st Precinct to the New York City Criminal Court where he was arraigned on first and third degree rape charges. His perp walk, a rite of passage for notorious, accused criminals, was a moment many have eagerly anticipated. For decades, Weinstein has strutted down red carpets across the world. And he treated this photo op much the same way. Wearing a black suit over a light blue sweater, his hands cuffed behind his back, he was flanked by two detectives, and still held his head high and smiled for the cameras.
During the arraignment, Weinstein’s lawyer assured the judge that his client had a $1 million cashier’s check in hand to cover his bail. Then on the steps of the courthouse he declared, “My client did not invent the casting couch,” in a bizarrely tone deaf attempt at declaring Weinstein’s innocence.
The perp walk has been happening in New York for at least a hundred years. Celebrities like Johnny Depp and Russell Crowe have done it. Famed gangsters like John Gotti did it shamelessly, strutting like a peacock. When Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a French politician and former head of the IMF, was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel worker in 2011, his perp walk outraged the international community, because in France, such photo opps are illegal. And of course, there’s the most infamous perp walk of all: Lee Harvey Oswald, shot and killed as he was transported through the basement of the Dallas Police Station, cameras capturing it all.
A legally sanctioned walk of shame, one to which the media is invited, is a strange ritual. But what does that ritual mean if you have no shame? Harvey Weinstein seemed miffed more than anything else, exuding annoyance at being made to bother with such plebeian rituals as arrests and arraignments. On his way into the police station, Weinstein carried two books. One was a biography of Elia Kazan, the director who cooperated with HUAC during the Red Scare in the 1950’s, and was largely vindicated — even celebrated — later in life. It’s clear Weinstein is sending a message that he somehow believes history will be on his side.
Some of the people watching felt vindicated by Weinstein’s perp walk and others took an almost sympathetic approach, describing him as frail — which is a silly way to describe a large man in an expertly tailored suit. Watching Weinstein in handcuffs, I saw a man accused of violating as many as 95 women who was able to give himself up voluntarily to the police on his own time, who was able to produce $1 million as if he’d just stopped off quickly at the ATM, and who was then allowed to walk away from all of it. After posting bail, Weinstein is now able to move freely in his New York City and Connecticut homes. I saw a man being perp walked, a man who smiled for the cameras because he knew how quickly those handcuffs would come off.
I saw a man who used money and power to victimize women for dozens of years without consequence and continues to do so. I saw him prepare to cast himself as a victim, as collateral damage of “outdated values.” Weinstein’s arrest and the public shaming of his perp walk may be a “symbolic victory” for the #MeToo movement, but only a jail sentence, away from the cameras, fame, and attention he’s courted his whole life, will be a just punishment.