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.