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Boston P.D. cracking down on cruising in the Fens

by Hannah Clay Wareham

Bay Windows

Thursday September 10, 2009

Boston's Fenway Gardens has recently seen a markedly increased police presence. Witnesses suggest that the round-the-clock patrols are working to eradicate gay cruising, for which the area is well known.

"The police presence is unbelievable," a witness, who did not wish to disclose his name, told Bay Windows. As both a gay man who has used the area for cruising and a plot owner in the Fenway's Victory Gardens, he has noted the increase in patrols and believes that their aim is to put a stop to the gay cruising.

"Over the years, it's been an incremental, systematic -- it seems like to me it's been a planned thing," the witness said of the increased police presence. "The mayor [Thomas M. Menino] couldn't come out and just, boom, close [the gardens] -- he'd get too much bad press from the gay community -- so it's been just little by little. It's more or less a harassment, wanting to get rid of the gay cruising."

"The [police] presence is just for the safety of all who visit and use the Gardens," said Sergeant Kevin Power of the Boston Police Department. "That's what our presence is for, has always has been, and will continue to be that way."

The area is a popular cruising spot because of the tall reeds, or phragmites, that grow in the Gardens. Because the reeds are so secluded, an expectation of privacy exists for those who seek to use the area for sex. This expectation means that any sexual acts committed there cannot be considered 'public sex.' Trespassing, littering, and drug use, however, are punishable by law.

City Councilor Mike Ross suggested that the heightened police presence is in response to the activities that occur in the Gardens after hours, including the gay cruising. "It's obviously a long and complicated issue that goes back to a time in Boston's history when members of the GLBT community were forced underground, forced out of licensed establishments -- literally had to hide out," Ross said.

"Knowing that history, we've had a couple of meetings and included members from the police force who are liaisons to the GLBT community, and patrols have been increased in the Fens," Ross said. "I'm getting complaints from people who are tired of seeing human remains, frankly, in their gardens. You know, needles, condoms, condom wrappers. And in the morning they come back to their garden, and they're cleaning this up. There's also a legitimate danger. We've had assaults that have occurred out there."

Power confirmed that incidences of vandalism and violence are on the rise in the Victory Gardens. "We've had some incidents up there. Back in April and May we had some robberies and then just recently we had some vandalism to some of the gardens up there," he said.

Along with citizens, local community centers and organizations have noted the heightened police presence in the Gardens. "It is our understanding that the recent uptick in police activity in the Back Bay Fens is the result of increased reports of violence and vandalism and is intended to enhance the safety of those who use the park," said Kelcie Cooke, Coordinator of the Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Health.

AIDS Action has also been keeping their eye on the Gardens. "We have been informed by [the Boston Police Department] of their beefed-up presence due to an increase in assaults and robberies in the area," a Sept. 9 statement from the organization read. "We support BPD's efforts to ensure public safety as they have always supported our efforts to reduce the impact and magnitude of HIV/AIDS.

AIDS Action is one of a handful of local organizations that does outreach work in the Gardens. "AIDS Action will continue to do outreach to people at highest risk for HIV, including gay men and other men who have sex with men who frequent the Fens," the statement read. "Working in the Fens allows us to work with guys who might otherwise never get information about HIV prevention and gives us a chance to connect people to services and care."

The Victory Gardens were the target of recent vandalism that some believe to be in response to the police cruisers that now patrol the area 24 hours a day with their lights flashing. The Boston Courant reported Sept. 1 that gates and post beams in the gardens were destroyed with "what could have been a sledgehammer or other heavy object."

Charles Martel, a member of the gay community and 13-year member of the garden society, told the Courant that while vandalism in the gardens has occurred in the past, the coordination and intensity of the most recent acts led him to believe that they were committed in response to the heightened police presence. Martel, however, believes that the police are targeting the drug and alcohol users -- rather than the gay cruisers -- that frequent the Gardens' tall reeds.

Councilor Ross recalled visiting the Gardens after the vandalism had occurred. "I just did a walk-through the other day with Superintendent Dan Linsky, where we walked through the Fens and saw the aftermath of forty or fifty gardens that had been destroyed.

"To me, it looked like retaliatory action for the fact that there's people who want the park to be secure and safe, and they don't want to have to come and clean that stuff up in the morning. I agree with those people. They shouldn't have to. And their parks should be clean and should be safe."

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