There is no defense for what law enforcement officers do to gay men in public parks. It happens in city after city, county after county, and community after community. From shore to shore, from Seattle to South Florida, 'bag-a-fag' tactics are illegally employed by cops to ensnare and entrap otherwise innocent gay men.
Here is how it starts. An alleged complaint comes in to a city police department that there is 'lewd sexual activity' occurring in a public park. In other words, it is a known gay meeting place or hookup site. Someone shouts, 'Hey, kids go there,' and the cops respond with an undercover detail deployed to stop gay men from flaunting it in public. The premise is reasonable, the objective lawful.
The truth however is that cops rarely go to the parks and find men doing the nasty on second base at a little league field. Cops discover that gay men patronize the park but do not engage in overt sexual acts. They meet, they talk, they chat, and maybe they go home together. So the cops really have no one to arrest. So the cops make up a crime. They target individuals who they themselves think are gay, and approach them as suspects.
Inevitably, the cops are young, good-looking and athletic. They are wearing shorts, t-shirts, and running shoes. They strike up a conversation about the weather, the park or what you are into. They entice and induce you to engage in the conversation. They take a guy who would otherwise be minding his own business and lead him on into thinking, 'Hey, something is happening here.'
After a few minutes, the cop will sexually charge the conversation with words like, 'Hey, that's a nice package you got there 'or 'I am into older men, what are you into?' The discussion leads into 'show me yours, and I will show you mine.' The problem is what the cop will show you is a badge and handcuffs instead. So you go from a walk in the park to a night in jail, as a result of a solicitation you might have never made yourself. That is, in a word, entrapment. You have been induced to commit a crime you would otherwise have not engaged in but for the solicitation of the other cooperating party - who happened to be a cop trying to set you up from the start.
Last week, South Florida Gay News did a stunning investigation, revealing that Palm Beach Sheriff's officers arrested more than 600 gay men during a five-year period in over 14 county parks. Purportedly they were there to stop lewd activity that was supposedly rampant and ongoing, an incredibly minuscule four arrests evolved out of cops observing gay men having public sex with each other. Instead, all the other cases involved cops initiating encounters and propositioning gay men they met while sitting or standing alone, on park benches, in their cars or by the restrooms.
In other words, the cops said to themselves, 'This guy is probably up to no good, let me see if I can get him to expose himself to me.' Cops had a lust to bust anything gay, and the techniques they used last year in Palm Springs, California, last month in Kent County, Michigan, and last week in Palm Beach, Florida all have something in common - they are illegal, unconstitutional and incredibly defensible in a court of law. Unfortunately, the embarrassment of a lewd act arrest also encourages people to simply pay the fine, go to a sex course, and plead out. But these arrests can impact your life, stay on a criminal record, and compromise your future.
SFGN reached the conclusion the two officers assigned this detail over a period of five years wound up creating and then perpetuating the very criminal activity they were assigned to stop. The sheriff's office unjustly targeted, improperly arrested, and then selectively prosecuted gay men in Palm Beach County public parks. Additionally, there were no oversight units within the sheriff's office utilized to screen, evaluate, or monitor the tactical operation employed by the designated officers, which were impaled by due process violations.
The entire operation was a disgrace, but very few people care, and less do anything about it. The mainstream media has a difficult time covering it. On one hand, they do not want to target gays as being lewd. On the other, they do not want to accuse the police of being discriminatory. Ultimately, they no longer have the investigative staff to do their own homework. So they do what mainstream newspapers now do best - nothing.
The SFGN investigation proved that police officers entrapped and induced otherwise innocent gay man into engaging in purportedly unlawful acts. Because so many of those arrested on lewd act charges find it easier to cop a plea than stand their ground and fight, many of these cases are now sealed, closed, and expunged. While that is fortunate for the victims who were humiliated by cops, it is unfortunate for the public, because the records exposing the misconduct are not rightfully accessible. Expedience dictated it, but expedience is a traitor to the truth.
We hire cops to uphold and enforce the law, not to break it. Most Americans want to treat their law enforcement officers with reverence and respect. When your life is in danger, when you face a threat, you call for a cop. You count on them to be there during times of distress. There are many more social services they quietly perform as well. Police perform these tasks at great risk to themselves. But whom do you call when you can't call the cops?
Recognizing the injustice done to gays in public parks, SFGN has launched CAFA, 'Citizens Against False Arrest.' On our website, falsearrests.org, we have begun to post a collection of stories from decent people across this country, who have been unjustly arrested and wrongly prosecuted. Gay or straight, black or white, young or old, this site represents a collage and cross section of official misconduct. If you believe you were such a victim, and have a story to tell, we want to hear from you. On the site there is a place for you to vent.
Last year, cops raided Johnny's Bar in Fort Lauderdale, going so far as arresting one bartender because he served someone under 21 a glass of water. Over decades of time, we have seen the gay community too often become the target of homophobic law enforcement. Those days have to end. That is why CAFA has to start. If you are the victim of bullying physically or a battering verbally, and law enforcement played a part in it, you now have a voice on the Internet, where you can upload your tale and tell others.
For the past few years, the LGBT community has obviously been more visible. But what have we learned in becoming more open? Stories of bullying have come out of the closet. Many teen suicides, we are learning, evolve out of young men scared to embrace their sexuality. Our fight for equal rights against discrimination in the workplace is still being fought in congressional and legislative chambers
CAFA, at www.falsearrests.org, is your opportunity to shine a light on the dark side of injustice. Our work is still not done, and this newspaper's commitment to you is to confront the dishonesty, expose the lies, and print the truth. We will all be stronger for it.