White-Collar Criminals

I’ll readily admit that I get a healthy dose of schadenfreude from stories (like this one from DC and this from New York) about criminals who evade law enforcement by dressing in “professional”-looking clothing. It’s perfectly natural to judge someone based on his or her clothing — and obviously much more acceptable than doing so based on his or her skin — but in cities with pretty strict class segregation and high crime rates, it too often becomes a visual shorthand for distinguishing “regular people” (i.e. professionals) from social undesirables (potential criminals, panhandlers, etc.). The worrisome implication is that had these men not been dressed in suits, but rather in jeans and baggy shirts, they would have been eyed with suspicion even before attempting any “funny business.”

This is related to our reluctance to treat actual white-collar crime as seriously as we ought, as well, I think. As understandable as it is that we’d mix criminality into the matrix of behaviors we use to determine class, it’s not forgivable, and I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a police officer who lets a prisoner go because he assumes prisoners can’t wear suits.