But these kinds of crimes aren’t just about the current victim, but the larger problem. Polanski committed his crime before rape and the sexual abuse of children were really considered serious crimes. Punishing him can help as a collective retribution of our society’s former values, and a way to assert new ones. One case that comes to mind is the conviction of Edgar Ray Killen 41 years after he conspired to kill three civil rights workers in Mississippi. These kinds of cases are about symbolically rejecting a history of racist violence and trying, at least, to move forward. And while I’m not trying to compare the crimes in severity---again, the victim in the Polanski case is thriving, and obviously the murdered men are not---I sincerely think there’s a useful lesson here about the importance of facing up to our history and doing what we can to make the necessary changes.and I come down on the side of support for Polanski coming back here to serve his sentence. Now, if we could only be as diligent and principled in our stand against war crimes.
UPDATE: Scott Lemieux suffers no ambivalence on this issue at all.