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Crime & Safety

Police in Fens Cause Concern for Gay Rights

Police Patrolling the Agassiz Road
Sidewalk – photo by Steve Wolf

by Meena Ramakrishnan

Last month, police increased patrols in the Fens after residents and gardeners complained about finding condoms, needles and trash in the Victory Gardens. Gardeners have been pleased with the response, but some argue that the police presence has jeopardized gay rights by patrolling a well-known gay cruising site.

“The perception in the gay community is that police have been targeting gay men who use the parks,” said Don Gorton, Chair of the Anti-Violence Project. “That has created considerable concern–that there is a desire to sweep loitering gay men out of the park.”

GLBT liaison Officer Javier Pagan said that after receiving complaints, police sent officers to patrol the area on foot after the mounted horse patrol was disbanded because of budget cuts. “There must be a misunderstanding about what is supposed to be going on,” Pagan said.

In response to the concerns over civil rights, City Councilor Mike Ross posted a statement in the Bay Windows to address the intentions of the police in the Fens. He said the police cannot ignore a legitimate complaint and have a responsibility to maintain safety. “The Boston Police Department is working to police the area to prevent crime that hurts the Fenway community — not profile those who may utilize the Victory Gardens as a meeting place,” Ross said.

“I’ve been pleased by the Police Department’s ability to recognize the difference between regulating behavior and preventing crime, which is illustrated by the fact that no one has been arrested for public sex after patrols were increased.”

According to Gorton, however, a gay man had been arrested for a sex crime. Gorton did not have exact details of the case, but the Anti-Violence Project is hoping to have the charges dismissed. Pagan said the person was summoned to court, but he did not have any further information.

“Despite command intentions, command communications were not publicized. Public information, I think is the answer,” said Gorton. He also said gay men have told the Anti-Violence Project that patrol officers were “terry-stopping” them in the Fens without suspicion that a crime was or will be committed. In a terry-stop, officers are allowed to briefly detain the person, ask questions and take down contact information.

“The number of stops involving gay men in the fens has increased after heightened patrols began,” said Gorton. Pagan said that while officers have been instructed to enforce the closing time of the Fens, they are not there to prevent people from using the reeds. “But if you enforce the park closing at dusk, then people can’t go in there and do what they do,” he said.

While sex in public is illegal in Mass., civil rights lawyers say that if consenting adults are concealed from passersby, then no law is being broken. Pagan said there have been previous law suits regarding public sex in Boston, so officers are not concerned with searching in the reeds. “When they have sex outside in the phragmites [an invasive species of reeds that lines the Muddy River], it gives them the expectation of privacy. You are surrounded by woods, and technically you’re not violating any laws by having sex in public,” said Pagan.

The phragmites around the Muddy River will be removed under the Muddy River Restoration Project’s plans to restore the landscape and improve flood control and water quality. Plans for removal are already underway. “Muddy River Restoration Project is going to change the entire landscape. Eventually they’ll have to close the entire area,” Pagan said.

The Victory Gardens was vandalized after the patrols started. Some gates were bashed, fence posts uprooted, and fence wiring damaged. More than 40 garden fences were affected. No one has been found responsible for the destruction, but some think that the vandalism was in retaliation to the patrols.

According to Pagan, around eight robberies occurred in the Fens a few months ago. Six of those involved gay men who had met someone in a bar, and then were robbed by that person in the Victory Gardens. Pagan posted signs in gay bars in Boston and has advised people to be smart about who they meet. He said the police have been working with gay rights groups, such as Fenway Health and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD).

Meena Ramakrishnan is a journalism student at Northeastern.


15 Responses to “Police in Fens Cause Concern for Gay Rights”

  1. The next time a gay guy gets assulted in the Fens then the gay community will say that the police aren't protecting them. Seems to be that the gay community is being selfish here and just wants to protect one part of their life style which includes cruising.

    Posted by john | October 12, 2009, 12:12 am
  2. can I cruise you John?

    Posted by Anonymous | October 12, 2009, 12:37 am
  3. When I first moved into the neighborhood, I made the mistake of looking for a shortcut through Fens. There were men, down by the reeds, at 7:30am, ready to go. Call me a romantic, but is getting a room that bad? Or, how about joining a hiking club? I think it's a respect issue–these men don't live in the neighborhood, so who cares? Right? Meetup at the Machine, get drunk, high, walk out with some guy to the park, screw him in the reeds, throw your condom in somebody else's garden and then complain about how unfair the world is and that the police are picking on you.

    Posted by Junky | October 12, 2009, 1:18 pm
  4. As a Fenway resident who was mugged in the Fens in the afternoon, I fully support the increased police presence. The area around the Victory Gardens is well-known for being unsafe and I'm grateful that the City is finally addressing this long ignored problem. In addition to increased police presence, the reeds must be cut down. They provide a safe haven for a variety of criminal activity, which is unacceptable in our park.

    Posted by Anonymous | October 12, 2009, 2:27 pm
  5. Fenway residents are completely fed up with the disgusting situation in this section of the park – used condoms, needles, human waste, guys having sex in the open, drug use/dealing, prostitution, you name it. This is NOT a civil rights issue. It's a public safety/health issue. The park that we support with our hard earned tax dollars should be safe and clean and for EVERYONE to enjoy. The park is not the personal property of the few who have taken it over for use as a toilet (literally). ENOUGH with the ridiculous, pathetic civil rights whining.

    Posted by Anonymous | October 12, 2009, 11:22 pm
  6. It's easy for straight people to say "get a room," but if you are not gay, then you will never know all of the different levels gay people face discrimination. The litter is just a scapegoat, because even if it wasn't there, people would still find something else to blame gay people for.

    Posted by Anonymous | October 13, 2009, 1:13 am
  7. What does discrimination have to do with a clean and safe Victory Garden? People of all walks of life live and garden in the Fenway. They all deserve to have a clean and safe park. We do not know who leaves condoms and feces in the aisles but until they stop this activity residents will continue to demand the police be active in the park. The people being abused and discriminated against are the gardeners and the residents of the Fenway.

    Posted by Anonymous | October 13, 2009, 3:12 pm
  8. It is a civil rights issue. In fact, as long as the sexual activity is out of sight (ie: in the reeds, esp at night), it is NOT illegal. This, according to a Mass SJC decision regarding public sex with the reasonable expectation of privacy. NEVER cede ground unnecessarily to the state authorty (ie: police and/or city/state/fed govn’t). It is always a matter of giving up personal liberty, autonomy which you WILL NOT GET BACK. The few gardeners who run to the city are spoiled middle-class brats who can’t fend for themselves. If you have an issue with the few incidents of feces, condoms, and needles (and I know the problem is not as widespread as these people claim it to be), then address it yourself. If you see the public sex or drug use (which you most likely don’t, as it isn’t really done in the OPEN), then address the people yourself. Quit running to the police. If you are gay, shame on you for turning on other gay people in this way. At some point, it’s YOU who will be the criminal, mark my words. Kissing up to state authority in the name of safety only contributes to state authority and gives power to the police to abuse that authority, which they inevitably will. Stop being such crybabys and think and act for yourselves for once.

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  10. First of all…I AM NOT going to hide behind the word “Anonymous” because I’m too much of a pussy to speak out…I go by Will.
    Second, for all the offended homosexuals out there…YOU DON’T GO TO THE FENS AT NIGHT BECAUSE THE VIEW IS PRETTY…You go there to fuck, do your drugs, and drink as much as you can. For your information any form of sex is considered lewd and lucivious…even Heteral sex. But, I don’t see a park where straight people fuck all night and get all offended when cops catch them in the act…and bitch and scream about how its because their straight. WAKE UP and realize your doing something wrong and possibly quite offensive….Don’t go running to attorneys who can swear by their practice THAT IF IT’S NOT SEEN THAT ITS NOT WRONG. Fucking morons ….leave it to the money grubbing lawyers….

    Posted by Will | October 19, 2010, 4:21 pm
  11. Gay or straight, no one should be f*cking in the reeds- show soem consideration for your fellow citizens, get a room.

    Support your local police.

    Posted by Anonymous | October 22, 2010, 11:50 pm
  12. Some of us are queer and lifelong Fenway residents. I do not use the park for sex, but I do not mind people doing so. What I object to is essentially vandalism which can be committed by anyone straight or gay, though I admit of a higher probability of it being a gay person in the fens at night. If people threw away their trash appropriately and didn’t break garden fences it would be relatively peaceful. I also object to the drug dealing element. I am happy to see increased police visibility in the gardens. If they unfairly harass peaceable gay men, then we’ll have to work with them until they can tell the difference. I do not want to see the reeds cut down as they constitute an eco-system which I value. Contrary to popular belief the water is very clean and home to turles and frogs and fish and herons who need the reeds to protect them. As a nature conservancy, I would think it would be illegal to cut those down. More trash barrels in the back area would probably help as there are none now.

    Posted by Residentqueer | December 1, 2010, 8:50 pm
  13. Agree with the last guy – how can this be serious? Violating “civil rights” because of patrolling in the Fens? What goes on down there at night defies any attempt to rationally justify of explain it to a normal daytime person. Full on gangbangs, random sex… in no other city would this behavior be tolerated. I can’t believe the BPD hides behind the technicality of it being hidden in the reeds, so it’s not really “public”. The Fenway is a public park, and public parks aren’t meant to be used for 40 guys having sex every night. It’s a public health problem, if anything. Half of it is unprotected. This isn’t exactly the cream of the Boston gay community down there. And when these “spoiled middle class brat” gardeners request that something be done about needles and used condoms in their gardens get criticized for it, something is seriously wrong. I mean really – no one should be fucking in the reeds. Get a goddam room!

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  1. [...] park as well. It has long been known as a popular gay cruising area, and BPD has had to deal with complaints from various organizations concerned with civil [...]

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