IT WAS SOME TIME AGO, maybe two years or more, when some man in the suburbs was jailed for seducing a teenage boy. There was a story in the paper and it went on to say how the man was married and a father and a honcho in the church, the head of a flourishing, self-made business and a civic leader with a chest full of citations from every cause and charity in town. They put him in the slammer anyway and you could almost hear the door clang shut. This, they said, was justice.
I remember talking to the lawyer in that case and maybe to the prosecutor, too. I was going to write something, something about how it made no sense to take a guy like that and punish him with imprisonment. He had already suffered or been punished or whatever it is that society wants from people who commit crimes. He was a ruined man and what he needs the most he would probably not get in jail - intensive Psychiatric care.
I never wrote that column. Colleagues told me the subject was anathema to readers, that men like him were the lowest form of human being and that the whole subject made people shiver with bad taste. So I did nothing, but a small cheer went up within me when I read of the case of Frederick Richmond. Here was Richmond, the 54-year-old New York congressman, arrested but not jailed for soliciting an undercover policeman. The cop nabbed Richmond after a 16-year-old youth complained that he had been repeatedly solicited by Richmond, who offered money in exchange for sex.
What I liked about the whole thing is how everything was handled so reasonably. Instead of going to jail, Richmond was handled under the District's "first offender" program and released with the promise that he would seek professional help. He wrote a "Dear Neighbor" letter to his Brooklyn constituents in which he acknowledged what had happened but denied that things had gone beyond mere solicitation. "Nothing more happened," he wrote. He apologized to everyone in sight, said he had brought shame and anguish upon his parents, his son, his staff and his constituents, attributed his behavior to stress and vowed, as he did in court, that he would seek help. Then a strange thing happened. Nothing happened. The other shoe never dropped.
In fact, there was something of a rally 'round Richmond movement. He declared for reelection and held a Manhattan fund-raiser attended by Vice President Walter Mondale and House Speaker Thomas O'Neill, among others. From other politicians came messages of support and understanding, and in what was once called the Borough of Churches, the newspapers tell us there are precious few community or religious leaders willing to criticize Richmond. "The Torah frowns on homosexuality, but you just don't dump on a guy because he's had a little problem," said a rabbi. Richmond, you might be surprised to know, is considered likely to win reelection.
Some of this is nice. It's nice to see Richmond avoid jail, and it's nice to see such an enlightened and nonhysterical reaction to an incident in which homosexuality is involved. But what has replaced all that is a trendy sort of liberalism in which critical faculties are suspended because the word homosexuality is mentioned - an extension of the modern doctrine that anything involving homosexuality is somehow beyond the pale of judgment. It leaves you with the feeling that Richmond would have been far worse off if he had been busted for approaching a hooker and probably doomed if he had put the crush on an underage girl. There is a lesson here, I suppose, something about sticking to your own kind. It comes a bit late to help Alan Howe, the former Salt Lake City congressman, busted for soliciting an undercover policewoman. You wouldn't know to break the news to Roman Polanski.
You can understand why this is happening. Some of it is in reaction to the years of homosexual-baiting in this country, the on going persecution of homosexuals and the verbal tantrums of the likes of Anita Bryant. Some of it, too, is a realization that you don't accomplish much when you jail someone for doing what that fellow in the suburbs did years ago. But there is a slopiness to the thinking that does homosexuals no service at all. There is something that turns homosexuals into the weirdos the American Psychiatric Association recently said they are not - beyond the reach of judgment.
But even more than that, it misses the point. The point is not homosexuality. Whether Richmond is one or is not one is beside the point and entirely his own business.What is relevant is that Richmond attempted to solicit for sexual purposes a 16 year old - a kid. He saw him, he walked up to him and he tried to buy him.
All this is not to say that Richmond should be jailed. That would do no good. This is only to say that what he did is an indication that either he was a captive of compulsive behavior or, if that is not the case, that his lack of judgment, not to mention his amorality, is breath taking. What cannot be done is have the matter swept aside in the march towards homosexual rights, going in just the opposite direction than the sentiments that put the Maryland man in jail.
Neither one is justice.