Dear John. You may be a John.
December 2, 2015 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Drive on certain streets that make up known prostitution zones and you could get an automated letter because you may be a John. But no worries if you're not!
posted by juiceCake (56 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
If opened by a spouse, would an unsubstantiated electronically generated false accusation be slander or libel? It's in writing, but not distributed by mass media. Slander then? Perhaps this program can be sued out of existence.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:56 AM on December 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


The future!
posted by drezdn at 9:57 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yikes. This sounds all kinds of wrong. Even aside from the privacy issues. I can understand the reasoning of advocates (though one single quote is not much to go on) but the whole idea of it being a wakeup call sounds so patronizing to women, not least those "wives or girlfriends or mothers" who'd supposedly see the letters.

And what about men who live alone? What are they going to do, threaten them with public shaming? Hang the letter outside the door?

There must be an example of some weird distant place on earth dealing with street prostitution in a more efficient, practical, reasonable way while protecting the rights of all involved, or wait, did I imagine it, hmm...
posted by bitteschoen at 9:58 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


If opened by a spouse, would an unsubstantiated electronically generated false accusation be slander or libel?

The letter would only say something to the effect of "Your car was seen in an area known for prostitution" (it's explained better in this story linked in the Medium piece linked in the first link in the post), so it wouldn't be libelous or slanderous. It would just be panoptical.
posted by Etrigan at 10:02 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


There must be an example of some weird distant place on earth dealing with street prostitution in a more efficient, practical, reasonable way while protecting the rights of all involved, or wait, did I imagine it, hmm...

You make brothels legal. You regulate it. You stop stigmatizing. You let two consenting adults conduct a transaction for sex for money and prosecute those who don't maintain proper records of ages and status.
posted by Talez at 10:02 AM on December 2, 2015 [31 favorites]


Why bother with the cameras? Just send letters to everybody. Dear everybody, please stop dealing drugs, soliciting prostitutes, boosting tires, collecting protection money, and lifting the lid on the rice while it's still cooking. If you dint do none of that stuff, please disregard this completely fucking idiotic letter.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:06 AM on December 2, 2015 [69 favorites]


Oh god, fuck the world, I'm going back to bed.
posted by corb at 10:09 AM on December 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


Hmm, isn't this kind of like a backdoor recognition that there's such a thing as a "prostitution zone" in the city of LA?
posted by FJT at 10:15 AM on December 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Could legitimate businesses (actually legitimate, not Legitimate™ with a nudge and wink) in the area sue the government for stigmatizing their customers?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:15 AM on December 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


Oh god, fuck the world, I'm going back to bed.
posted by corb at 12:09 PM on December 2

So but supposing god did fuck the world, would they send a letter to gods address stating god had been in a world-fucking area?
posted by dancestoblue at 10:21 AM on December 2, 2015 [20 favorites]


I can't think of a better way to discourage anyone from coming into that district, for any reason whatsoever! I'm sure this will work well, and won't have any negative impact on the legitimate businesses operating there. No sir.

Do I even need to type hamburger or do we all just pretty much get the sarcasm inherent here
posted by caution live frogs at 10:22 AM on December 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


LA City Council might want to google "freedom of movement."
posted by Sys Rq at 10:26 AM on December 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Hmm, isn't this kind of like a backdoor recognition that there's such a thing as a "prostitution zone" in the city of LA??

Backdoor? Absolutely zero people are in dark about this part of town. No one sees all the woman in club attire at 3:30am walking Sepulveda Blvd and has any misconceptions.

In fact, Nury Martinez entire modus operandi as a city council woman is to come up with crazier and crazier solutions to what she seems to think is the absolute worst crime ruining America today.

Also, it appears she has a good reason to make some press waves, some of her staff has to go before a grand jury.
posted by sideshow at 10:29 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also: Anyone with the capacity to do so should be auditing the hell out of the city councillors. This has corruption written all over it. Systematically stigmatize an area, property values plummet, buy up everything in the area for nothing, stigmatization program just so happens to stop, area gentrifies, ka-ching.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:34 AM on December 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


The police in my town used to put up mug shots of women arrested for prostitution on their site; they no longer do, possibly because someone realized that, because the mug shots were accompanied by where they were arrested, the police were in effect operating their own version of craigslist for local escorts.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:39 AM on December 2, 2015 [29 favorites]


“If you aren’t soliciting, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox."

If you aren't guilty, then you have nothing to worry about when we insinuate that you committed a crime. Why do you look nervous, Citizen?
posted by Kevin Street at 11:08 AM on December 2, 2015 [10 favorites]


Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Red Light Camera".
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:13 AM on December 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


I for one welcome our robot overlords. No one can escape the cold eye of mecha-Sauron.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:13 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


The letter would only say something to the effect of "Your car was seen in an area known for prostitution"

I am not sure what to make of a city council that admits it is powerless to stop people from using their genitalia in ways the government does not approve of and is now reduced to hoping random relatives of the ne'er-do-wells find out. Efforts to cause family drama as an instrument of public policy is something I have not run across before.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:16 AM on December 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm not really the "culture jamming" type -- and even if I were I don't live in LA -- but couldn't someone send "Dear John" letters to the people involved in this scheme?

It wouldn't need to accuse them of any crime, just hint that they may have been in the position to commit one. After all, we know that many cases of crooked politicians accepting lobbying money happen within a certain radius of government buildings, and yet here these people are, day after day, in those corruption "hotspots".

If you aren’t in a position to accept bribe-like contributions, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox. But if you are, these letters will discourage you from doing so. Soliciting money in our neighborhoods is not OK.
posted by -1 at 11:18 AM on December 2, 2015 [21 favorites]


Hmm, isn't this kind of like a backdoor recognition that there's such a thing as a "prostitution zone" in the city of LA?

They tried this in Season 3 of The Wire with 'Hamsterdam'. It umm...did not end well.
posted by Fizz at 11:24 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


And what about men who live alone? What are they going to do, threaten them with public shaming? Hang the letter outside the door?

In New England, the traditional route is to sew the letter to the front of your jerkin. I mean, they mostly did that to women, but what the heck.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:26 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


The Des Moines thing goes back at least to 1989 and at the time was grass roots.

Fed up residents aside, I have to wonder, depending on the neighborhood, what kind of lifespan would this kind of camera have.
posted by BWA at 11:33 AM on December 2, 2015


This reminds of the story about how people having affairs who got caught by speed/red light cameras and realized it would race to the police station to pay the traffic fine before the ticket that would show them in their vehicle with their partners in adultery was sent out.
posted by srboisvert at 11:40 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a confession: I am a criminal. I regularly flagrantly jaywalk. There is a trip I make on foot almost every day which includes a straight stretch of road about 650 m long (over 2000 feet) with no traffic lights in it and no cross streets. I frequently cross in mid-block, as do many others.

The city could, I suppose, send cops to arrest us. The city could also look into establishing some way for pedestrians to cross legally in the midst of this nearly half-mile stretch. If the city council decided it would write to my brother-in-law or my cousin to drop a dime on me, I am not sure that I could take their efforts to address the situation seriously.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:43 AM on December 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Kevin Street: "“If you aren’t soliciting, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox."

If you aren't guilty, then you have nothing to worry about when we insinuate that you committed a crime. Why do you look nervous, Citizen?
"

I have cited this before, with the whole panopticon culture thing, and I suppose I will do so again...

If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

Allegedly Cardinal Richelieu.
posted by Samizdata at 11:47 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


ricochet biscuit: "I have a confession: I am a criminal. I regularly flagrantly jaywalk. There is a trip I make on foot almost every day which includes a straight stretch of road about 650 m long (over 2000 feet) with no traffic lights in it and no cross streets. I frequently cross in mid-block, as do many others.

The city could, I suppose, send cops to arrest us. The city could also look into establishing some way for pedestrians to cross legally in the midst of this nearly half-mile stretch. If the city council decided it would write to my brother-in-law or my cousin to drop a dime on me, I am not sure that I could take their efforts to address the situation seriously.
"

SEE! SEE! Proof positive they are ALL GUILTY! BURN THEM, BURN THEM NOW!
posted by Samizdata at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2015


I predict this will come to an abrupt end after letters are sent to a few politicians' homes.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:56 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


The use of Automatic License Plate Readers is going to have a lot of unintended consequences. This is one tiny example, and is also just the beginning.

Oakland has released almost 2 years worth of data to the public. That's license plate number, timestamp, and lat/lon. Anyone can check to see where their neighbors work or hang out and figure out the home address of the driver that cut them off. And they may as well publish it, since even more data (3.5 years) is available via FOIA (previously).
posted by jjwiseman at 12:13 PM on December 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


To be clear, this is just a proposal at this point. The LA city council voted to ask the city attorney’s office to examine sending the letters. Not defending the letters, just making sure the facts are straight.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:30 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


So if we start from the assumption that prostitution is criminal activity, and then work backwards, we realize that poverty is the source of most criminal activity. So logically you'd want to have less poverty, and thus less crime. So that means you'd want to raise the standard of living for folks. Which you would do in part by making their neighborhoods nicer, both for broken-window-bullshit reasons, but also because folks who live there stand to accumulate wealth when their property values increase.

Except now you just created a de-facto red line in your own goddamn city, which means everyone who lives there is going to lose their shirt when their house is suddenly worth 30% less overnight, and the neighborhood will continue to spiral downward because no self-respecting bank is going to give you a mortgage for a house that the LAPD has outright admitted is a brothel. So now you've created a self-perpetuating cycle wherein the residents here get poorer and poorer, and more of them turn to illegitimate business.

Oh! And as an added bonus, you've also created a zone whose borders will creep steadily outward, as people realize that living one block from the Red Light Camera District is almost as shitty as living in it. Why, at that rate, it'll be a scant decade before entire regions of the city are a blasted hellscape, and then Kurt Russell will swoop in and punch in the goddamn world code.
posted by Mayor West at 12:59 PM on December 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


So all I need to do to ruin someone's relationship is drive up and down a red light district with their license plate on my car? This could be the new swatting.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:02 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can easily see this also becoming a thing where high school kids sneak out in their parents' cars to drive through that neighborhood.
posted by mkultra at 1:14 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


In New England, the traditional route is to sew the letter to the front of your jerkin.

If you're jerkin' then they probably don't have you on camera . . . yet.
posted by The Bellman at 1:15 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


In London, automated plate readers already know instantly if you've entered the central congestion zone, and fine you automatically if you don't pay in time. I already have a love/hate relationship with my gps Waze app (sadly now owned by Google). I use it religiously since it's so great with traffic, but it knows everything about me: where I go when I go and how fast I've driven. I can see the future when no matter how many ad-blockers and anti-trackers I install, Google is going to set my cookies based on my driving habits. (If they're not doing at already.) The fact that I'm already force fed AARP ads everywhere is profoundly depressing for a 51 year old.
posted by MacChimpman at 2:00 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Who needs Augmented Reality Games when we're already LARPing Paranoia?


I didn't make that up, I heard an Infrared say it! I'm not a Commie mutant traitor, honest!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:05 PM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Johnny Wallflower, please come with us. Terrorists are the current threat and having any knowledge of Commies is treason. Citizens, remember that the computer loves you and not loving the computer is treason.

Ahem... I wonder if someone could sue based on having to go there because of traffic or a real business or something, getting the letter, and then suing for defamation, especially if it leads to relationship trouble.
posted by Hactar at 2:34 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


So all I need to do to ruin someone's relationship is drive up and down a red light district with their license plate on my car?

Driving with tampered plates is illegal.

What is entirely legal is holding a (retro-reflective?) cardboard rectangle with numbers on it in view of the camera.

Due to the speed and effectiveness of the plate readers compared against today's available technology, I am 99.8% certain that the camera's automated plate-recognition algorithm are triggered entirely by the shape and format (and maybe reflector brightness) of the plate itself, and the error checking does not include "is this plate attached to a vehicle".

The plate readers can read dozens of plates a second, so instead of holding a cardboard rectangle, a phone or tablet would probably work, with an animated display spamming thousands of plates a minute into the database, as fast as the cameras can input them.
posted by anonymisc at 2:36 PM on December 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Sure would suck to head into the red zone to pick up a gift for your spouse and then have a letter a few days later both lets the surprise out of the bag and causes strife in your relationship.
posted by Mitheral at 2:38 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


ricochet biscuitI have a confession: I am a criminal. I regularly flagrantly jaywalk. There is a trip I make on foot almost every day which includes a straight stretch of road about 650 m long (over 2000 feet) with no traffic lights in it and no cross streets. I frequently cross in mid-block, as do many others.

I asked a police officer about this once, when we both happened to see a guy just hanging out in the middle of the street. It turns out that crossing mid-block is not technically jaywalking in most jurisdictions, unless you are also interfering with traffic flow.
posted by yeolcoatl at 2:52 PM on December 2, 2015


TIL Mitheral thinks a prostitute is an ideal gift for the spouse, preferably a few days in advance.
posted by axiom at 2:55 PM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's very unfair, axiom. That vibrator the missus has been wanting might only be available locally at the sex shoppe in that district.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:30 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you aren't guilty, then you have nothing to worry about when we insinuate that you committed a crime. Why do you look nervous, Citizen?"

I was once asked this at a border crossing in Michigan (except the citizen part because I am not) by a US Marshall in a cowboy hat and boots and with a pearl handled revolver.

My response was "Because I am Canadian and you have your hand on your gun".

His response was "Fair'nuff"

Because of this I didn't visit the United States again until about 8 years later when I was preparing to move here because after that the thought of crossing the border completely terrified me. I had nightmares about my immigration border crossing for the 4 months before when I knew it was happening and I didn't visit my family in Canada after immigrating for about a year because I was too damn nervous re-entering the United States. AND I AM BORINGLY LAW ABIDING.

These small seeming things have big chilling behavioral consequences.
posted by srboisvert at 4:37 PM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Man is keeping me down.
posted by JohnFromGR at 4:39 PM on December 2, 2015


It turns out that crossing mid-block is not technically jaywalking in most jurisdictions, unless you are also interfering with traffic flow.

Your mileage may vary substantially depending on your jurisdiction. Raquel Nelson was charged with vehicular homicide after a driver struck and killed her child while she was crossing the street, mid-block and 1500 feet from the nearest crosswalk, on the theory that jaywalking made her culpable in her child’s death.
posted by musicinmybrain at 4:43 PM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


Haul these men off to "Room 101" in the Ministry of Love for their thoughtcrimes. Make sure they are properly indoctrinated in Crimestop to eliminate unwanted thoughts or ideas. It is an important step in learning to love and need Big Brother.
posted by Muncle at 4:53 PM on December 2, 2015


Citizens, remember that the computer loves you and not loving the computer is treason
posted by Hactar

Nice try, but I'm still not taking that ball you offered me.
posted by thefoxgod at 5:58 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


My apartment building is adjacent to a street notorious for prostitution, especially back in the day. If this comes to DC I guess I'll be getting a letter every time I drive to the supermarket for some late night snacks.
posted by whoaali at 10:13 PM on December 2, 2015


A friend of mine wondered what would happen if she brought a Zipcar through this area and got a letter: would Zipcar terminate her membership? What if it was a Uber or Lyft or other rideshare?

Also, sex workers favor decriminalization over legalization.
posted by divabat at 5:48 AM on December 3, 2015


One would hope they would either send out only one notice per plate and/or not send to addresses in the proscribed area; if only to save on postage.
posted by Mitheral at 6:14 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


One would hope...

isn't really a solution to bad law.
posted by Etrigan at 6:28 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


True. I was just hoping it would mitigate the situation someone like whoaali might find themselves in where otherwise their mailbox will be filled daily with notifications.
posted by Mitheral at 7:31 AM on December 3, 2015


There's been quite a bit of discussion about this in my neighborhood. There's a 3-4 block area that has a lot of street prostitution activity, with the typical complaints (noise, trash, public sex, drugs, violence). It's further complicated by the fact that most of the prostitutes are trans, so there's a fair amount of ugly language thrown around, and counter accusations of bigotry (which are probably accurate). My general impression is that the people that live on those blocks are just looking for some way to keep both the prostitutes and the johns away and DNGAF about the other consequences.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2015


My apartment building is adjacent to a street notorious for prostitution, especially back in the day.

I like to imagine that the park in front of the Cato Institute stopped being a notorious hangout for street prostitutes because arriving CI workers would yell across at them we support your right to legally use your body as a tool for generation of wealth.
posted by phearlez at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


From a fusion.net article by Kashmir Hill today:
It’s no longer just a proposal. The “John letters motion” was approved by the city council on Monday and LAPD officers can presumably start recording license plate numbers and sending letters to the registered owners’ homes immediately. But the media got one thing wrong: there’s no plan to use automated license plate readers to scan every license plate that goes through the neighborhood to shoot the drivers scarlet letters. And the age of pre-crime had already arrived: Los Angeles is not the only city to have this idea. Oakland, St. Louis, and Sanford are among those who got there first.
and
“That way, registered owners will know the city is watching your every move and notifying you of it,” said Wayne, who then went into IRL Internet commenter mode. “If Hitler were here, he would applaud you today. [This proposal] is fucking fascism on steroids. How the hell can you take the fact that a license plate on a car is in a certain area to justify the government sending a letter accusing that person of being a John?”

“Welcome to the First Amendment,” said Englander to the gathered attendees, noting Wayne’s right to free speech. His response to Wayne was, “You can go now.”
posted by jjwiseman at 10:38 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


yeolcoatl It turns out that crossing mid-block is not technically jaywalking in most jurisdictions, unless you are also interfering with traffic flow.

musicinmybrain Raquel Nelson was charged with vehicular homicide after a driver struck and killed her child while she was crossing the street, mid-block and 1500 feet from the nearest crosswalk, on the theory that jaywalking made her culpable in her child’s death.

I'm pretty sure a child hit by a car counts as an interference with traffic flow.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:49 PM on December 5, 2015


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