Keep the filth on the net and off the streets

A Cook County, Ill., sheriff is trying to bust, the (almost) free, online classified ad Web site, for running ads from prostitutes. I used to wonder why my old street corner looked so empty at midnight these past few years. All this time I thought the police were doing a fine job keeping the girls and the drug dealers off the streets, when it turns out that Craig was doing all the work.

Why stand at a cold, windy intersection in a black mini-skirt and a pink tube top in the dead of winter when you can stay in your nice warm apartment and wait for an e-mail? You’d think the sheriff would give Craig a public service award for cleaning up the streets instead of trying to nail him.

I don’t want to sound like I’m for people breaking the law, but I am for people not breaking the law on my street, my corner, my front yard. I used to live in a “bad” neighborhood with drug dealers lurking in every shadow and working girls cruising the streets from 10 to 2 every night. The police would bust one, and the next day another one would take their place. The same faces would appear and reappear for years. Every night sirens would knock us out of bed. Between the EMS and the squad cars, you’d think they were filming “Kojak” in front of our apartment. One day, they were. Thanks to craigslist, a public nuisance has become a private one. That same street corner that was an urban war zone is now full of women pushing strollers, sidewalk restaurants and thriving neighborhood shops. Obviously, we can’t let that continue. We must bust craigslist and bring crime back to the streets where it belongs. Thank you Mr. Sheriff.

For those of us who live much of our lives online, Twittering, eBaying, downloading, streaming, Amazoning, Googling, Facebooking, MySpacing, blogging, Huluing and YouTubing it’s kind of a shock to think that anything we do online, in the privacy of our own homes, is a crime. Did you ever listen to a song on the radio? How much did you pay to hear it? When the DJ plays music at the high school prom is he committing a crime? So why is downloading one? Watch “The Maltese Falcon” on the TV? How much did you pay to see it? Why should I pay to see one online? Borrow a book from the library? How much did you pay to read it? How much did the author get? Did you commit a crime by not buying your own copy? When you get a good deal on eBay, did you ask if the thing was stolen? Magazines that used to come in brown paper wrappers are now free on the Internet and hugely popular.

What is criminal in the age of the Internet is mutating before our eyes. If that sheriff went after spammers with the same zeal he’s going after hookers, he could probably get himself voted President For Life by the Internet community. If he went after pop-up ads, phishers, Nigerian letter writers, we might double his pay.

But what about the ads for prostitutes? What can be done? There’s one simple, easy way to stop that crime overnight. Stop using them.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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