By Mary Angela Bock
Former President Donald Trump exited his black SUV and waved to supporters as he walked, flanked by Secret Service agents, into a downtown Manhattan courthouse to be arrested on April 4, 2023.
This brief moment could easily be called the perp walk of the century.
Hundreds of visual journalists trained their cameras on the courthouse door, and helicopters overhead captured Trump’s short walk. Trump was visible to the public a second time inside the courthouse at around 2:30 p.m. and, with a stern expression, again walked past security guards and police. As Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina said would happen, Trump was not handcuffed.
Trump got what he wanted, as he, according to recent media reports, wanted to be the center of attention and create a spectacle. His detractors also got what they wanted, which was a visual record of Trump officially submitting to authorities, five days after he was indicted for 34 alleged felonies related to business fraud and a hush money payment to a porn star.
But Trump and his supporters are not likely to treat this as a walk of shame. Indeed, a high-profile event like a perp walk may further fuel Trump’s run for presidency.
I have studied perp walks for more than 10 years, and I am anxious to see how court officials, the New York Police Department and the Secret Service will handle Trump’s arrival at the New York courthouse on April 4.
Normally perp walks are seen as their own kind of punishment – a media ritual that puts an alleged criminal on display for all to see. But Trump is a master showman and will be the ultimate ringmaster of his indictment. I believe that he clearly wants to – and will be able to – spin the event to his favor.
A relatively recent trend
As I described in my 2021 book, “Seeing Justice,” perp walks have been part of visual news for decades. But the term became common in popular culture relatively recently.
A search of The New York Times archives found it used for the first time in 1994 as part of a feature on the jargon of tabloid journalism. Since then, the term spread from the occupational lingo of police and journalists into the public sphere.
A perp walk happens when police officers bring a person arrested in a crime through a public area so he or she can be photographed by the media.
During a perp walk, defendants may be handcuffed or wearing prison clothing, accompanied by officers, or they might be photographed as they freely walk into court. Sometimes they run, and sometimes they put jackets over their heads.
In unusual cases, defendants try to trick the press to avoid being photographed. Former Pennsylvania State Attorney General Kathleen Kane had her twin sister Ellen Granahan Goffer act as a decoy and walk to court in her place after Kane was arrested on charge of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2015.
Photographers recorded Goffer walking by, and some of them were unable to recover and capture the moment when Kane herself walked by shortly thereafter.
A point of shame
Perp walks are often a way to shame a criminal, even though they usually occur before a person is found guilty.
For many criminals, this ritual is a moment of shame and embarrassment. In my previous career as a TV journalist, I covered quite a few walks when the person accused did everything they could to avoid the cameras. It is the scarlet letter of the digital age, which is why many of Trump’s critics on social media want one so badly they’ve been photo-editing fake ones for years.
Perp walks are productions put on by the press and law enforcement. Some result simply from a tip by police officers about where and when a person will appear. In some cases, as when Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was arrested in 2018, perp walks are scheduled in advance with careful security plans for where photographers may or may not stand.
High-profile defendants are scrutinized for the way they walk, dress and face the cameras. In Weinstein’s case, for instance, his humble blue sweater made headlines.
Perp walks rarely occur spontaneously. They are usually tightly controlled and produced by the judicial system as a form of public relations for the criminal justice system. In 2000, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this procedure is a legitimate way of informing the press and public of police activity. In this case, a New York doorman arrested for alleged theft of an apartment tenant’s belongings sued New York City and the police department after he was forced to do a perp walk. He said it violated his rights.
Orchestrating a perp walk for the former president, however, is not likely to satisfy the yearnings of those who want so badly to see him punished for his alleged crime.
Trump knows how to play to the camera and create his own media events. This is why he was prepared to appear in New York as a show of defiance against criminal charges stemming from his alleged hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.
A positive spin
In 2014, I researched the way then-Gov. Rick Perry of Texas handled his perp walk and mug shot in Travis County. Perry was charged with overstepping his powers by defunding an integrity unit.
Perry held a rally outside the courthouse before walking in and shaking hands with onlookers en route to the booking room. He then flashed an ironic smile for his mug shot. Not only did Perry not shrink from the ritual, he won the visual moment in the court of public opinion. All charges against him were eventually dismissed.
I think a politician like Trump most fears being forgotten or ignored. His opponents may want to see him humiliated, but they should keep in mind that his first courthouse appearance likely energized him.
Editor’s note: This article was updated April 4, 2023, with Trump arriving at the courthouse.
Mary Angela Bock is an Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
The dude says
Nothing quite puts the spring in the step of a MAGA like wanton criminality…
Raw dogging porn stars and indictments are points of pride for MAGA, not things to be ashamed of.
Dave Roskins says
your lobotomy is long over due
Says the guy who is the Big Lie
I have been around, associated with people who have had contact with the criminal justice system, including me.
And I have yet to see anyone who gains increased pep in their step from the possibility of their freedom being taken away from them. AKA jail time
Dennis C Rathsam says
Nothing more than the polerizing democratic machine in action! This is just another way to manipulate the news away from the failures of the Biden Administration, & the money trail that goes streight to the Biden family from China, & the CCP. God bless Donald Trump, this foolish indever has raised 2 million dollars, towards his re-ellection. The American people see right trough these foolish charges. Go after your opponent with the police, and arrest them just like a 3rd world country. Looks like Biden took a page out of the book of Xi & Putin….
Dennis please wake up. Trump did wrong. Why are so many Republicans blind to the fact that Trump is a loud mouth crook. Prison should be his home until he dies.
@ ATWP says
And another Judge orders Stormy Daniels to Pay Trump $120K in legal fees on the same day, what a coincidence. Didnt realize you were a fly on the wall in Trumps bedroom. He does have a loud mouth but at least he uses it instead of hiding in a basement behind his handlers and Jean Pierre Mushy mouth word salads.
Dennis I don’t have time like you to be in his bedroom. He is too poison for me
Steve Ward says
How bout Kelly Anne Conway the real gem
Pray tell what did President Trump to jeopardize this country?
He tried to close our borders to keep out illegals, terrorists and drugs. Biden brought in over 5 million. Biden and family took millions of $$$$& from Russia and China.
Biden left Americans and billions of $$$$ worth of military equipment in Afghanistan. Do I need to continue? Looks like the wrong president got indicted.
The dude says
This one fell out of the MAGA tree and hit every branch on the way down.
Very little of this is actually true.
David Schaefer says
You and Dennis must get together where is your MEGA hats you fools.
Dolly: If indeed Biden did something legally wrong, he should be indited. A Grand Jury of his peers came to the conclusion that there is enough evidence to convict Trump. We will see if that happens. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to see if they can retaliate. Retaliation is unethical politics, you know, like DeSantis trying to punish Disney World for simply not agreeing with him.
Personally, I am often baffled how people cannot see what grifters Trump, and his family are. He is living in Mar-a-Lago, flies his personal jet, a 757, all over the place to his private clubs, but he needs average Americans to send him money. Trust me, nobody’s home there.
By the way, you might want to change the channel.
@ dolly. . . please post “credible facts and evidence” to back up your ridiculous claims regarding President Biden. Otherwise, we will all continue to know that you are just mindlessly repeating BS FOX talking points. Thanks!
Try the Associated Press, PBS or the BBC for “factual” news. Surely you would like to be respected for being well informed.
Dave Roskins says
“Trump did wrong”, lol…………….seriously, you are ill.
Steve Ward says
He has potentially 3 more Indicateds more serious than the first
It is funny that you, …and other Trump O’ doddles dont mention Putin in your rants about leaders that are not likely to offer freedom to thier citizens.
I guess like the former President folks like youselves are a liitle under the Putin bromance !
Ben Hogarth says
Tell me you know nothing about anything without telling me,
1. This was an independent DA who has corroborating witnesses and physical evidence – not some Democratic Party conspiracy.
2. The prosecution of an alleged felon under a states law has no correlation to or impact on national economic policy.
3. Trump has always been happy to accept donations from the ignorant and foolish, why should now be any different?
4. The popular majority of the country via polling again and again has evidenced that most people believe Trump committed a crime and should never seek re-election again.
5. Your description of police and policy makers targeting political rivals sounds like a beautiful ode to DeSantis and the GOP in states like Florida, Tennessee, and Texas (to name a few).
6. Biden has nothing to do with the interests of the prosecutors in the state of New York and has even gone so far as to remove himself from public comment on the subject AND meddling in DOJ investigations at the federal level – a position that Trump himself failed to stick to.
I can go on and on, but I think it’s important to refute the absurd claims made by individual citizens that have become sock puppets for extremists political groups. Trump is presumed innocent, but at this point, has about as much presumption as the average school shooter. We also expect him to be indicted in Georgia with far better evidence and more egregious criminal charges, and also at the federal level with regard to secret documents he hid from the national archives.
In other words, your great-white-hope is at the end of his rope. And so is your generations last desperate attempt at political relevance. Enjoy the rest of your time in the limelight, because it’s fading. Tick. Tock.
I’m guessing from your grammar and spelling you are a product of the Flagler County School system….
From your comments, it’s clear that your news source is Fox News which further erodes your credibility. Trump is charged with a crime that if Biden had done the same thing, you’d be the first to want him charged and jailed. I wish you would just look at the facts and base your comments on that. Biden didn’t get Trump arrested; Trump did. I’m glad to see that Trump isn’t skating away from this. He may not be convicted but he deserves to be charged and this country deserves to see and hear all the facts when the trial comes.
@dr. . . Post credible “FACTS” and “EVIDENCE” regarding your ridiculous claims about President Biden. . . otherwise, we will continue to believe that all you can do is mindlessly post FOX BS talking points.
Bill C says
A new record for ignorance pride from Rathsam : “polerizing”, “streight”, “indever”, “re-ellection”, “trough”. 5 misspelled words in 6 sentences. Keep up the good work so everyone can see who is in the MAGA base. Maybe run for School Board?
When you say “God bless Donald Trump” what do you mean? Doesn’t God bless everyone?
David Schaefer says
Really. What planet were you born on MR MEGA…..
@dr. . . All BS FOX/Newsmax talking points!!! Post “credible facts and evidence” for your ridiculous claims about President Biden. . . otherwise we will all continue to know that you do not “think” for yourself.
He looked anything but energized….I think it may be dawning on him that the grift is coming to an end….
The dude says
Spend a few minutes here and you’ll see the grift is alive and well… as long as there’s rubes and easy marks like the MAGA folks, the grift will continue.
Billy Bunnell says
I think a mental evaluation of Trump is long overdue. Only someone suffering from the severest illness would behave like he does. I think syphilis has eaten his brain resulting in his inability to think clearly, express himself rationally and act in accordance with normal human behavior. A danger to himself, his family, the nation and the entire planet. Maybe they could start with the Baker Act.
Dave Roskins says
oh billy, sounds like you are projecting your own sad existence.
The world witnessed yesterday NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW in the USA. Jack Smith is getting ready to knock at Trumps backdoor. The best is yet to come.
Ray W. says
“To most people in Germany, this seemed to be the end of Hitler and Nazism. The Nazi party was dissolved. Its leaders were arrested for high treason. Its top man, who had run away at the first hail of bullets, seemed utterly discredited. His meteoric political career appeared to be finished.
As things turned out, it had only begun.
By a dazzling display of oratory, Hitler contrived to turn his trial for treason into a public platform from which he established himself for the first time as a national figure. In the eyes of millions of Germans who hated the Republic, he emerged as a patriot and hero. He acted as his own lawyer. And no one else in the courtroom could match his eloquence or his shrewdness in cross-examination. He completely dominated the trial – and the headlines in the world press.
Hitler was found guilty of high treason and sentenced on April 1, 1924, to five years’ imprisonment in the fortress of Landsberg. There he was treated as an honored guest and given a comfortable room of his own with a splendid view of the orchards of the adjoining countryside.
In such pleasant surroundings, the prisoner settled down to ponder his mistakes, to take stock of the future – dismal as that future seemed – and to dictate the text of a book.
Into this book the fallen Nazi leader began to pour the burning thoughts which were to shape the course of German history for the next two decades. He began to set down in detail the blueprint for the kind of Germany – and Europe – he intended to establish when destiny again called, as he was certain it would.
It was not Hitler’s fault if the men who ruled the democratic German Republic and the statesmen who presided over the governments of the other countries in Europe did not read his book when it was published. Or, if they did read it, did not take it seriously.
No one can say that Hitler did not give full warning of the barbarian world he intended to make.”
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler, ppg. 38-40. Random House, 1961.
Trump read Mein Kampf.
It is a cult. Only in a cult do people rabidly support the leader, no matter what he does. Warren Jeffs is in prison and still is in charge his cult the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, even though he was convicted of sex crimes of underage children. Cult members killed innocent people for Charles Manson, and still followed him while he, and they were in prison. People took poison for Jim Jones. It’s stunning, but it happens, and it’s happening now. Trump claimed he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue (New York) and get away with it. The MAGA base would absolutely allow it.
It’s sad, but go ahead and give your hard earned money to this grifter, and cult leader, if that somehow makes you feel better.
He talks tough from a distance, but folds like a cheap suit when put in a confrontational situation.
Jackson 1955: Classic bully. “Be Best,” right?
Steve Ward says
He looked haggard washed out and doped up. His tired rambling was the one hit Wonder the only schtick he knows,with a few talking points I’m the victim, everyone but me is a crook,liar or thief woe is me woe is me blah blah blah.
No solutions No Policy No suggestions
Steve: And yet, outside of the court, he found time to threaten the judge, his wife and family. A coward of the first degree.