NEW YORK CITY — Gay New Yorkers staged a protest near Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s home last Saturday, asking him to stop police from what they say are arrests on false prostitution charges.
“This is a strange, weird kind of thing, where an undercover police officer is offering to pay money to an individual,” said Bill Dobbs, a gay activist. “And all of a sudden, there’s an arrest — whether or not the individual accepts the money.”
He said police have targeted Manhattan shops that sell erotic materials, approaching male customers and offering them sex and money. The men are then arrested on prostitution charges.
Protesters said there has been a pattern of such arrests — more than 50 in the past three years — and the mayor should stop them.
Paul Browne, deputy commissioner for public information with the New York Police Department, said Dobbs was misinformed.
“The police activity was in response to community complaints of prostitution and other problems at a few locations” and was in no way aimed at the gay community, he said.
Browne said ranking members of the department have met with community representatives and those concerned about some specific arrests, and to discuss the NYPD’s approach to prostitution complaints and other quality-of-life issues. He described the talks as positive and said they will continue.
Dobbs helped organize the demonstration near Bloomberg’s home on East 79th Street, just off Fifth Avenue. Police stood guard outside the mayor’s home and set up barricades on Fifth Avenue to contain several-dozen activists.
One sign read: “Protect sexual freedoms.”
“The city is using gay men as a means to shutter places,” said Dobbs, who is an attorney. “This is a blow to civil liberties, it’s a dangerous kind of sting.”
Protesters said they’re especially concerned by the way the men have been arrested — outside shops, with owners often not aware anything had happened until their businesses are shuttered. Many of the arrests took place at shops in Chelsea and the East Village — Manhattan neighborhoods with relatively large gay populations, they said.
Robert Pinter said he was arrested in October outside Blue Door Video in the East Village, where he’d been looking for a DVD. The 53-year-old massage therapist said he was approached by a handsome man in his 20s, and agreed to engage in consensual sex in a car.
“On the way out of the store, suddenly, he offered me money,” said Pinter. “I thought, this is odd.”
He said he didn’t respond to the offer of money, but he was still pushed against a fence and didn’t realize he was being arrested “until I heard the clicking of handcuffs on my wrist.”
Pinter was charged with loitering for the purpose of soliciting sex. He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct and was sentenced to attend five health classes and pay a small fine.
According to the NYPD, there were 900 nuisance abatement closings or stipulations in 2008 in the five boroughs, 242 of them in Manhattan. Of those, 100 involved prostitution — including three gay X-rated DVD stores at which prostitution occurred, according to complaints.
Citywide, there were 1,883 prostitution arrests: 1,650 were female, 233 were male.