LAPD Arresting Men Cruising in Parks
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is "cracking down" on public sex in a number of the city’s parks. Officials say that many of those arrested for lewd conduct are married Hispanic men who identify as straight, reported Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC on March 12.
Footage posted at the KABC site showed condoms littering one area in Elysian Park, where police have made 90 arrests for lewd conduct so far this year. Two other parks were also mentioned in the report, Sycamore Grove and Griffith Park.
"Very typically these are married man who do not identify themselves as gay," LAPD Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz told the media during a March 12 press conference. "Many of these men are Hispanic," continued Diaz. "Many are monolingual Spanish speakers."
Officials insisted that the target in the crackdown was not gay men, but those who break the law by engaging in public sex. "Gay straight, bi--whatever potential orientation they are is not our concern," said LAPD Sgt. Lisa Phillips. "Our concern is to stop this activity, or at least [make] an attempt to abate it."
Police and GLBT equality advocates said that gangs were preying on the men who were cruising in the park, targeting them for robbery and assault because the men are unlikely to report the crimes to police.
Not everyone was convinced by those last claims. A March 12 article posted at La Figa questioned, "Okay, so then how do the police know there robberies are occurring? And frankly, shouldn’t the LAPD be looking for armed robbers rather than guys trying to get some action?
"Then after showing video of park areas littered with condoms, the police said that there was a risk of sexually transmitted diseases," the article went on. "Not if you are using condoms!" Added the article, "Elysian Park is home to the Los Angeles Police Academy, making it a rather high risk area for both public sex and armed robbery..."
A similar crackdown took place in Boston last summer, with a noticeably higher police presence at the Fenway Victory Gardens, a longtime cruising area. Incidences of vandalism seemed to increase with the greater police presence, causing some to speculate that the damage was done in retaliation to more patrols. The gay community worried that police were targeting men looking for sex, but officials said that there were other factors at work, including drug users and others who would leave refuse in the area’s garden plots.
Police stings seemed to increase in public restrooms in the immediate aftermath of the Larry Craig scandal three years ago. After the former senator of Idaho was arrested and charged with trying to solicit sex from an undercover police officer in an airport restroom, some groups claimed that police attention to restrooms elsewhere in the country seemed to be spiking. In Clayton Township, Michigan, local GLBT advocacy group Triangle Foundation said that police stings were increasing at area public facilities.
"These situations have always been bad," Sean Kosofsky, the public policy director for Triangle Foundation said, "but the fact that we just saw a wave of them all happen at once in jurisdictions where we weren’t hearing about them before makes us concerned that this is a response to Craig."
A Nov. 28, 2007 EDGE article examined charges that police were not merely observing to ensure that public sex was not taking place in restroom facilities, but were coming on to men, which Kosofsky said was "entrapment."
"They’re encouraging men to break the law and then charging them with crimes they didn’t commit," Kosofsky claimed, saying that undercover police would smile at men, give them suggestive looks, and even initiate sexually loaded conversations. "Having conversations about sex in public are legal," Kosofsky said. "As long as it doesn’t involve a minor or money, you can do it. And none of these men are involved in paying for anything or involved with cruising minors, yet they’re all being charged with crimes. Because they’re so humiliated, they’ll plead down to anything or pay any fine to make it go away."
A Dutch policy on public cruising that permits it in specified areas stands in contrast to the American approach, a May 1, 2008 EDGE article reported. Kosofsky was interviewed for this article as well, telling EDGE, "Police entrapment against gay men has been going on for a very, very long time; and one can argue that there is an equal protection or profiling element. There are never operations to go after heterosexual cruising behavior."
Whereas straight men cruise for sexual partners "at the supermarket, at church and at the ballgame" without fear of legal repercussion, Kosofsky said. But gays are targeted for the same behavior--because of the gender of their prospective sexual partners. "People may find cruising to be distasteful, but straight people do it all the time and don’t consider it lurid," Kosofsky noted. When it comes to sting operations, however, "Police have misled the public into believing that these arrests are rooting out sex offenders."