OF ALL THE VICTIMS of capitalism, O few can match Michelle Griffith. She is the 30-year-old prostitute who has been arrested 25 times, convicted eight times and sentenced the last time to an incredible one year in jail. Her crime, it turns out, was not so much an affront to morality as to property values. She hooked in the wrong neighborhood.
The neighborhood in question is Logan Circle, which was for many years the closest thing Washington had to an honest-to-God red-light district. For years, Logan Circle made Boston's combat zone or even San Francisco's old Barbary Coast seem as innocent as Boys Town. To get arrested for prostitution in and around Logan Circle had to be quite a feat. I'm not sure it could be done.
Then things changed. The houses around the circle, some of them architecturally distinguished, were rehabiliated. Unfortunately, the girls who worked nearby were not.Some of the houses had been the kind of houses that were not homes. People came and scrubbed the brick and hung plants in the windows and declared Logan Circle a part of Washington, D.C.
That is when the trouble started. The girls stayed. They stayed and they worked the area, wearing the outfits that prostitutes think they have to wear, approaching men on the street, drawing the usual traffic to the neighborhood, harassing people and generally creating what is sometimes called a nuisance. It is not something I would like my kid to see.
This is always the trouble when you create a red-light district. What it comes down to is that you abandon a piece of the city. You say okay to prostitution, which means also that you say okay to the parasites who live off prostitutes -- the pimps with their Cadillac habit to support. You say okay also to thievery and disease and traffic and creeps coming into your neighborhood looking for the merchandise that the prostitutes are selling.
What that means is that a piece of the city becomes unfit for people to live in. You cannot raise a family in a neighborhood like that. You would not want your mother from the suburbs to visit you there. You would not trust the men who cruise in cars and if you were a woman you would get tired explaining to the dumbos looking for sex that ladies in hot pants are for rent; the ones with groceries in their arms, kids hanging to them and briefcases full of work are not. You would want the hookers moved out.
So this is what the residents of the Logan Circle area are attempting to do. More power to them. Prostitution is a blight on any community and it is intolerable in a residential neighborhood. The situation is slightly less painful when prostitutes confine themselves to commercial areas that are more or less abandoned at night. It really does no good to point out that the prostitutes had Logan Circle before the people with the plants moved in, because prostitution is not now and never has been an asset and it is very often about some woman selling her body to keep some man in cocaine and Cadillacs.
But the Washington criminal-justice apparatus should be in the business of enforcing moral, not property values. There should not be one penalty for prostitution on nearby 14th Street and yet another one for Logan Circle. There should not have been one penalty for prostitution when poor people lived on Logan Circle You thought no one lived there before the middle class moved in? and a stiffer one now that the neighborhood is "better."
But that, in effect, is what happened. Poor Miss Griffith ran into an extraordinary lobbying campaign by the residents of Logan Circle. They wanted a stop to the system whereby the Miss Griffiths of this world treat an arrest they way you or I do a parking ticket. An arrest, even in her business, should not be part of the overhead.
So the residents prevailed upon both the U.S. attorney and a judge to throw the book at Griffith. The stunned woman was led away, but she was no pioneer. Countless others have not followed. Business is still done in the Logan Circle area and all the city has managed to achieve is a double standard of justice. There's one for hookers on Logan Circle and one for the rest of the city -- one for poor neighborhoods, one for rich ones. The city ought to make up its mind. Harsh or lenient, there should be only one.