I feel very conflicted about Roman Polanski's being arrested. Not because his crime wasn't reprehensible, it clearly was. Not because it is a mark of cowardice to admit your wrongdoing and then flee the country, which it clearly is. Rather, I am troubled because of how the case is being treated as some sort of culture war lightning rod.
Let's talk facts. As part of a plea bargain, Polanski admitted to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, a charge with all parties originally expected him to either get probation for, or to be released for time served. Allegedly, the presiding judge later changed his mind after a conversion with the Assistant District Attorney (acting on his own emotions surrounding Polanski and the case), and communicated to Polanski's attorneys that he had decided to change the sentence to prison (up to 50 years) and eventually deportation, something which Slate reporter Brian Palmer "claims clearly violated the ethics code" of the justice system. This was what allegedly precipitated Polanski's flight.
Let me clarify some things: I don't think Polanski should receive special treatment. I particularly object to the idea that he is not, or should not, be subject to the same laws as other individuals because as an artist or director he should have a special status. However, if there was misconduct in his case, this also needs to be addressed. Just as his notoriety should not protect him from the law, neither should it single him out for special punishment.
I am also disturbed that people claiming to be thinking of Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, also seem to be ignoring her comments of the last, oh, ten years. Geimer has repeatedly said she has forgiven Polanski, thinks he has paid his debt, that she has "long gotten over" any harm he inflicted on her, and perhaps most notably, formally requested that Los Angeles county drop the charges against him.
People may disagree with Geimer that Polanski has paid his debt. Personally, I think living as a fugitive for thirty years is probably not very fun. By the same token, I feel that people who committed war crimes and went underground for decades should still be hunted down and prosecuted. I think the big trouble for me here is that Geimer thinks Polanski should, essentially, be let go with no further action taken. Coming from the victim, that's something you kind of have to at least think about.
Concluding thoughts: It should not be a "fad" to defend Polanski against any attacks, as he admitted his guilt and crimes. It similarly should not be a "fad" to bash Polanski or his defenders as being "pro- child molestation," given the problems with the sentencing and the fact that Ms. Geimer thinks he should be let go and sent on his way. In fact, she seems angrier about the DA's office putting her back in the national spotlight again than about anything Polanski has done.
Clearly, Polanski has not had an easy life. His parents died in the Holocaust, his wife was brutally murdered by the Mansons, etc. But there is still the question of his crime. Has he actually paid his debt to society? I would have to say no. Because he ran away, because he fled the country, Polanski did not pay this debt, and he still has to. A fair solution would be to have a new sentencing, perhaps including both Geimer's testimony as well as the additional crime of failing to appear in court. Polanski could serve a brief jail term and/or pay Geimer a sizable settlement,
something which has come up before.
But both sides seem to be enjoying their rhetoric a little too much at the moment. Tone it down, folks.