Perp walk meaning: what is a perp walk, definition, difference to a frog march, will Donald Trump be given one?

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The former president wants to turn any arrests into a ‘spectacle’, but may be denied his wishes

This week could see the indictment of former US President Donald Trump by a Manhattan grand jury on potential charges of falsifying business records relating to payments of hush money to women who accused him of sexual encounters during his 2016 campaign.

An indictment in New York would mark an extraordinary turn in American history, making Trump the first former president to face a criminal charge. And it would carry tremendous weight for Trump himself, threatening his long-established ability to avoid consequences despite entanglement in a dizzying number of cases.

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But according to reports, sources close to the former president claim he has told advisers he wants to be handcuffed and undergo a “perp walk” during any potential future court appearances, believing it would be better to turn everything into a "spectacle".

But what exactly is a “perp walk”, and why would the former president choose to have one over cooperating with the authorities? Here is everything you need to know about it.

What is a ‘perp walk’?

“Perp walk” is the term used to describe the practice of law enforcement officers parading a suspect in handcuffs, in public view, from a police station or other holding facility to a vehicle that will transport them to a court or other establishment for processing. The term "perp" in this instance being short for "perpetrator.”

The origins of the perp walk can be traced back to the early 20th century, when police departments would use it as a way to show the public that they were actively pursuing criminals.

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The practice gained more attention in the 1980s when high-profile white-collar criminals, such as Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken, were photographed in handcuffs during their perp walks. Since then, the perp walk has become a common practice for law enforcement agencies, particularly in the United States.

During a perp walk, the suspect is typically surrounded by law enforcement officers, who may also have their weapons drawn to ensure the suspect's safety and prevent them from attempting to escape. The suspect is also often accompanied by members of the press, who capture images and video footage of the suspect being led away.

Of course, leading a person in handcuffs from a vehicle to a building is often an activity that can’t easily be hidden. But police departments and law enforcement agencies have been known to actively stage perp walks for a number of reasons.

Clockwise from top left: Martha Stewart, Tiger Woods, Harvey Weinstein, Lindsay Lohan, and Bernie Madoff are all notable names who have undergone ‘perp walks’ (Photos: Getty Images)Clockwise from top left: Martha Stewart, Tiger Woods, Harvey Weinstein, Lindsay Lohan, and Bernie Madoff are all notable names who have undergone ‘perp walks’ (Photos: Getty Images)
Clockwise from top left: Martha Stewart, Tiger Woods, Harvey Weinstein, Lindsay Lohan, and Bernie Madoff are all notable names who have undergone ‘perp walks’ (Photos: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Perp walks can help law enforcement agencies build a case against the suspect by creating a visual record of their arrest, with images and video footage captured during the walk available to be used as evidence in court to demonstrate the suspect's guilt.

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The practice can also help to deter others from committing similar crimes. By publicly displaying suspects in handcuffs, law enforcement agencies can send a message to the public that they are actively pursuing criminals and will not tolerate criminal activity.

Notable people who have undergone perp walks include Martha Stewart, who was photographed in handcuffs during her perp walk in 2003 after being convicted of insider trading, and Bernie Madoff, who was also photographed in handcuffs during his perp walk in 2008 after being convicted of running a massive Ponzi scheme.

Other notable perp walkers include Tiger Woods, who was arrested in 2017 on charges of driving under the influence; Lindsay Lohan, who has undergone multiple perp walks over the years, including for charges of drunk driving and theft; and Justin Bieber, who was arrested in 2014 on charges of driving under the influence, resisting arrest, and driving with an expired license.

What’s the difference between a ‘perp walk’ and a ‘frog march’?

The term "frog march" is similar to a perp walk in that it refers to the act of forcing someone to walk with their hands behind their back, typically when they are being arrested or taken into police custody.

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However, there is a subtle difference in the meaning of the two terms. "Perp walk" typically refers to a public display of an arrested person, with the intention of humiliating or embarrassing them. In contrast, "frog march" usually refers to the physical act of being forced to walk with hands behind the back, and does not necessarily imply a public display.

The term "frog march" is believed to have originated in the military, where soldiers who were being disciplined or arrested would be marched away with their hands behind their back in a way that resembled a hopping frog. The term has since entered general usage and is used to describe the act of forcing someone to walk in this manner.

So, while both terms involve the act of being forced to walk with hands behind the back, the term "frog march" generally refers more to the physical act, while "perp walk" has a more negative connotation and is usually associated with public displays of arrest or humiliation.

Why would Trump choose to have a perp walk?

Former US president Donald Trump is involved in a number of high profile legal proceedings now that he has left office (Photos: Getty Images and Adobe Stock)Former US president Donald Trump is involved in a number of high profile legal proceedings now that he has left office (Photos: Getty Images and Adobe Stock)
Former US president Donald Trump is involved in a number of high profile legal proceedings now that he has left office (Photos: Getty Images and Adobe Stock) | Getty/Adobe Stock

Trump's insistence that he wants to be handcuffed behind his back for a perp walk appears to be driven by a number of factors, a his desire to project defiance in the face of what he perceives to be an unfair prosecution and his hope that it will inspire his supporters to back him in the 2024 presidential race.

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People close to Trump have also claimed that the former president is wary of any special arrangements made in light of his high-profile - such as making his first court appearance via video connection or being snuck into the courthouse through an alternative entrance - would make him appear weak or hopeless.

Citing advice from his Secret Service detail about potential security problems, Trump's legal team in the hush money case has objected to the idea of him appearing in person and has instead suggested that he permit them to quietly turn him in and plan a remote appearance.

But Trump has rejected that strategy, and said over the weekend that he didn't care if he was shot because he would become "a martyr". He later stated, according to sources, that if he were shot, he would probably win the presidency in 2024.

Those close to Trump are unsure of how serious he is about being handcuffed for a perp walk. But Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, could decide against handcuffing him, and forbid him from being marched in front of the cameras.

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