Protesters Say Cops Target Older Gay Men with Bogus Charges at XXX Shops
Photos by Candice M. Giove.
In front of a backdrop of hot pink placards - some splashed with hearts and cupids - Robert Pinter, a 53-year-old gay man, recounted the horror of being falsely arrested for prostitution this past October.
He is one of many older gay men, activists said, targeted by young, good looking undercover police officers in adult video stores.
"It's intolerable that this is going on 40 years after Stonewall," Pintar said, as his voice cracked and his piercing blue eyes glazed in tears. "Intolerable."
Pintar and other protesters, who massed steps away from Mayor Micheal R. Bloomberg's East 79th Street digs on Saturday, demanded a full investigation into a spate of similar arrests they believe might be part of a larger campaign to scrub smut shops from City streets, since these arrests have been used to bolster nuisance abatement cases.
"It's a continuation of what Giuliani was doing," said Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop the Arrests, a group founded by Pintar.
Pintar revisited the memory of the autumn night: While shopping at the East Village's Blue Door Video, an attractive, Asian, twenty-something proposed a hook-up in his car. Following the stranger's invitation, Pintar exited the shop. And that's when the young man offered to pay the middle-aged Pintar $50 for oral sex.
"I thought it was odd and I thought if this vibe continues I would just shake his hand and say, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' and be on my way home." Instead police pushed him up against a fence, stripped him of his wallet and bag and placed him under arrest for soliciting prostitution, he said.
A series of articles penned in the Gay City News, a New York City LGBT weekly publication, uncovered scores of other arrests, which happened under similar circumstances. An analysis by the paper found a disproportionate percentage of older gay males arrested on prostitution-related charges at a number of gay adult shops when compared to the percentage of older males arrested for prostitution-related crimes in Manhattan South. While 17 percent of males arrested for these types of crimes in 2008 were over 40, Gay City News reported that 66 percent arrested at Blue Door Video were over 42.
Police have brought in over 50 men on prostitution-related charges since 2004. NYPD spokesman Paul J. Browne has said that the department conducted these operations in response to public complaints.
The documented arrests illustrate certain peculiarities. In most of those cases the undercover officer suggests compensation after the pair already agreed to consensual sex. And many of those apprehended for prostitution, according to these reports -- older men and even some tourists -- are unlikely prostitutes.
With a cluster of arrests and convictions at an establishment the city wields enough evidence to shut a place down or to place certain conditions on conducting business. The City lodged lawsuits against eight gay adult shops since 2004, seven of them supported by those arrests.
"If the City has some legal basis for closing down these stores if they think they're a blight or a nuisance or there's some illegal activity going on, surely they could find a legal means for pursuing these nuisance abatement suits rather than trampling on the civil rights of gay men in New York City," said Pintar. "It's intolerable and unacceptable."
While sitting in custody for 24 hours, Pintar grew worried that the prostitution charge would demolish his career as a massage therapist. So, at the advice of a Legal Aid Society attorney, he pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct. "I was scared. I was hungry. I was distraught. My mind was like a sieve," he said.
Pintar decided to come forward to prevent a repeat of his ordeal. He said he encountered others who believed they'd been similarly stung while attending court-ordered sex worker health classes. Some privately shared their stories.
"Many other men simply will not come forward. It's embarrassing. They're ashamed," he said. "Some of them maybe have girlfriends or boyfriends or whatever reason people have for not coming forward."
The arrest pattern concerned many of the City's gay elected officials. Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, whose district includes the Blue Door, demanded an investigation. State Senator Tom Duane called the arrests "harassment." And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn arranged a meeting last week with the NYPD's Vice Squad, the Mayor's office, and LGBT groups.
The Coalition to Stop the Arrests, and other aligned organizations, vowed to continue their fight until answers emerged. Next week activists plan to protest again in Sheridan Square.
Yesterday they chanted loudly. One man recited rhyming verses (video below) that he wrote for the mayor and the police. The group marched in a loop holding their eye-popping signs. When the chants died out, one man yelled, "A moment of silence for the death of integrity in New York City."
"A moment of silence for the death of sex," shouted another protester, as they continued walking.