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NYC Protesters Slam NYPD Gay Sex Entrapment Stings

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Feb 16, 2009

What looks like an abrupt increase in arrests of gay men in New York City's gay-friendly Greenwich Village is being protested by gay New Yorkers and questioned by elected officials.

One theory: the police are using so-called "nuisance abatement" laws to target and close gay businesses. In order to do so, they have to show a pattern of illegal activity is taking place at the businesses in question.

Enter the sting operation, in which a gay man--often, but not always, middle aged--is approached by a handsome younger man, an undercover officer who cruises the older man, suggests consensual sex, and then, as the two exit the building, offers to pay for the sexual encounter.

That's then numerous additional undercover officers pounce, handcuffing and arresting the older man for "loitering for the purpose of prostitution."

This is how 53-year-old New Yorker Robert Pinter says events unfolded last fall as he perused videos at Greewich's Blue Door Video shop.

Pinter's story, which has appeared in the media several times, including at EDGE, has caught the attention of city and state lawmakers, partly because Pinter was so outraged by being propositioned, then arrested and charged with prostitution, that he started his own group, the Stop the Arrests Coalition, to draw attention to the spate of gay arrests.

The most recent publicity on the ongoing story appeared in the Feb. 14 edition of The New York Times in which Pinter's story was reiterated.

Pinter, a massage therapist, described being approached by an undercover officer.

"He was very charming and cute, and we agreed to leave the store and engage in consensual sex."

As the two stepped out of the story, Pinter said, the younger man said he wanted to pay Pinter $50 for what Pinter was thinking would be a casual, but not financial, transaction.

That didn't sound quote right to Pinter, but before he could pursue the matter, he claims, a number of undercover officers waiting outside hustled him against a fence, handcuffed him, and put him into a van, where he spent several hours as the police officers traveled around the city making arrests.

Pinter was later advised to plead guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct to avoid a trial and possible conviction on the more serious prostitution charge; he assented to this legal advice, but later regretted it.

Pinter claims that 37 gay men have been targeted and entrapped, and some of them have declined to meekly plead to a misdemeanor charge, seeking to contest their arrests and, more importantly, the manner in which they came about.

The police say that Pinter was arrested only after being offered money twice, and that he nodded his consent to the offer the second time.

The police also cite how one man made it plain that he did not want to exchange sex for money, saying that he was interested in the young officer and not in remuneration. In that instance, the man was not placed under arrest, the police said.

But the frequency of such arrests at a handful of gay establishments over the last year or so looks to some like a concerted effort to entrap and arrest gay men, and to close gay businesses.

And Pinter rejected the police's account of his own arrest, saying, "That is complete and utter fabrication.

"When he offered money, I said nothing. I thought to myself, where is this coming from? I will just see what is up with him."

Pinter added that he reasoned, "I can very easily just excuse myself and head for home and have dinner. But he seemed kind of insistent."

One of the Blue Door Video's owners said that his business "is like any other video store.

"We have adult videos and movies that we are playing so anyone older than 21 years of age can buy and use them."

Added the business owner, "But all these people who got accused--I cannot believe they are prostitutes."

The New York Times cited an editorial that appeared in the Gay City News, which drew parallels between the arrests and those that took place at the Stonewall Inn, creating friction that eventually flared up into the riots that are now regarded as the start of the modern GLBT equality movement.

The article quoted GLBT equality advocate William K. Dobbs, who said, "Forty years later, the N.Y.P.D. is still targeting gay men and places we gather."

But Paul J. Browne, a spokesman for the department, said that the police were not targeting businesses or gays--rather, he said, they were cracking down at specified locations due to reports of illegal goings on, such as drug dealing and serving alcohol to minors.

Browne pointed out that of a hundred so-called nuisance abatement cases in 2008, only three involved businesses like Blue Door Video. (Pinter placed the number of similar businesses affected at six, and Gay City News said eight shops were targeted between 2004--early 2009, with two shops being closed down.)

Said Browne, "The impression is being put out there that it is all concentrated on gay Manhattan.

"That is just not true."

Even so, to the gay community, including some legislators, the number of such arrests involving gay men--Pinter claims 34 over the period of roughly a year--has raised eyebrows, and questions.

Openly gay state Sen. Thomas K. Duane was quoted by the Times as saying, "I have been an elected official for quite a while, and this is the first time I have heard of such a large cluster of anything like this.

"And it is the first time middle-aged men are being arrested for prostitution," noted Sen. Duane.

A Feb. 13 statement from the Speaker of the New York City Council, openly gay Christine Quinn, said that Quinn had "serious concerns regarding the spike in arrests of gay men in the Village."

The statement said that Speaker Quinn had "raised these concerns with the administration" and that Quinn wished to "make sure no one is being unfairly targeted by the Police Department," the article reported.

The article quoted Browne as saying that a meeting between GLBT leaders and the NYPD saw "general agreement" that the police need to be able to keep order and arrest criminals, "but also in a way that reassures the gay community that none of its members are being targeted because they are gay."

Mr. Pinter was at the meeting, also. The article quoted him as saying, "It was a great beginning, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions."

Added the president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, 24-year-old Zachary Woolfe, "To be unfairly targeting members of a group on trumped-up charges is something that shouldn't be happening today."

Pinter was also at a Valentine's Day protest that took place not far from Mayor Bloomberg's residence.

The crowd of about two dozen called out, "False arrests for prostitution, vice squad trashes the Constitution," according to a Feb. 14 article that appeared at Gay City News.com.

Gay City News also cited Joel Czarlinsky, who was plain that Bloomberg has "got to stop this if he wants our vote" in this year's city elections.

Czarlinsky, who also belongs to the Stop the Arrests Coalition, was also at the Feb. 11 meeting between legislators and police. Said Czarlinsky, the police "never admitted that anything they have done so far had been wrong."

Added Czarlinsky, "The process isn't working and maybe that they have to use a different process."

The article said that another adult orientated business, Unicorn DVD, had been subjected to a nuisance abatement action by the police, but that the action was discontinued late last month, two weeks after being initiated.

The department offered no comment on the dropped case, the article said, going on to note that of the five men who had been placed under arrest for prostitution at Unicorn last year, four had decided to fight in court rather than enter a guilty plea to a lesser charge.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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