Gay Groups Meet With Essex Officials

dean_head.jpgA coalition of gay groups in Essex County met with the sheriff and the county executive yesterday to discuss the county’s enforcement policy on sexual “cruising” — in light of last month’s shooting death of Dean Gaymon in Branch Brook Park. The discussion apparently mollified concerns in the gay community that Essex County is unfairly, and dangerous, targeting them.


Darnell L. Moore, Chair of the LGBTQ Concerns Commission of the City of Newark, said in a press release, “We were extremely heartened by the spirit of cooperation and communityexpressed by County Executive DiVincenzo and County Sheriff Fontoura this afternoon. We look forward to finding more formal ways to partner with the County on this issue going forward.”
Rev. Janyce L. Jackson, pastor of Newark’s Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, stated, “I am feeling very hopeful, because the County officials are listening and responding to our concerns. Newark and Essex County can be a place where the LGBTIQ community feels safe, and we are committed to working with the County whenever possible.”

Essex County has also agreed to stop its five-year undercover effort against public lewdness in Branch Brook Park, and will step up the presence of uniformed officers instead.
Gaymon, an Atlanta credit union CEO, was back in the area for the Montclair High School reunion.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Re this shooting, I have had some strong things to say previously about how authorities have handled this in the aftermath. Today, I turn to some of the allegations that the shooting was due to gay bias or race bias, and to what I SUSPECT was the cause.
    I do not for a minute think Gaymon was shot because he is gay. I do not think for a minute that Gaymon was shot because he was black. Many a gay black man has been arrested for this conduct before, and none were shot.
    I do strongly SUSPECT that Gaymon was shot because of either poor police practices, tactics and maybe attitudes, especially regarding use of weapons, or because the individual police officer should not have been a police officer, should never have been issued gun as being too psychologically unstable or at least psychologically unfit for police work. Because of the reports he had to be heavily drugged in the aftermath, I strongly lean to the the psychological factor as the cause of this shooting. I strongly suspect the officer was not of a psychological makeup to be issued a gun.
    And for that, the department is to blame. The department is supposed to properly and deeply screen police applicants for their psychological fitness. I SUSPECT they failed in this case.

  2. What I find perplexing, and a bit disturbing, is the manner in which these advocacy groups have adopted Mr. Gaymon as the proverbial poster-child for gay civil rights in Essex county, the oddly coincidental spelling of his last name notwithstanding.
    Nobody but nobody should be soliciting for sex or engaging in sexual activities in this park or any other, period. In taking the position that the authorities are violating the civil rights of gay men by targeting them with the now-discontinued undercover operations, these advocacy groups seem to be defending the indefensible. It seems to me that the only men who need be concerned about being caught in the sting operation are those who are visiting the park with the explicit objective of looking for hookups. If you don’t go looking for sexual encounters in public venues then you won’t get arrested. If you do, then you might. That is strictly an issue of appropriate public behavior in a civil society, and not at all one of civil rights.
    In appearing to condone this behavior the gay advocacy groups risk reinforcing the stereotype of gay men being sexual deviants, providing ammunition to bigots and groups that are really out to deprive gay men (indeed, all GLBT people) of their civil rights.
    By adopting Mr Gaymon’s tragic death as their cause celebre, these folks are making the presumption that he was gay based solely on the police officer’s statement that Mr Gaymon was seeking to engage in a sexual act with another man, unintentionally lending credibility to the ignorant notion that homosexuality is all about sexual activity and nothing more. Mr Gaymon was married with four children (as I recall). Perhaps he was a deeply closeted gay man, a bisexual on the down-low, or a mostly straight guy with curiosities. We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. What is important is that Mr Gaymon, by virtue of his lifestyle, seems not to have publicly self-identified as a gay man. Yet the advocacy groups have tagged him as such, based on the equation “looking for sex with men = gay”. This does a gross disservice both to Mr Gaymon, by defining the entirety of his person by one alleged attempted sexual encounter, and to the entire cause of GLBT civil rights by defining what it means to be gay in such a stereotypically one-dimensional manner.
    Finally, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I also doubt that Mr. Gaymon was shot because he was perceived to be gay, or because he was black, or both. Only the police officer knows the real reason Mr Gaymon is dead today. I won’t speculate further on that except to say that something went terribly wrong in the park that day, and we will probably never know the truth.

  3. I won’t speculate further on that except to say that something went terribly wrong in the park that day, and we will probably never know the truth.
    ————————————-
    Yep!

  4. Pork Roll,
    That is an excellent post. You covered everything and did it well.
    It could possibly the best post I’ve ever read on this board.

  5. Bravo, Pork Roll. At that hour of the morning most of us are nowhere near that eloquent, if awake at all. :>)

  6. Thank you, Pork Roll. You codified my feelings on this perfectly, and did so far better than I could have prior to my 3rd cup of coffee. 🙂

  7. I can’t disagree with PR’s comment except for the final paragraph where he seems to view this as a closed case where “Only the police officer knows the real reason Mr Gaymon is dead today”. PR seems to be OK leaving it as is.
    The police/Essex County DA investigation of this shooting appears to be either shoddy/half-assed, or a coverup. Is this OK?
    Heaven forbid, if it was your kid, maybe up to some teenage mischief in park after dark, and he ran from the cops and got shot to death, would this be OK? No further investigation? Just accept the officer’s half-baked story?
    How about if your wife or daughter got pulled over for a traffic infraction, she starts mouthing off to the cop, reaches into her purse for her cell phone to call you, and the cop blows here away…thinking she had a gun? Is this OK?
    Since no authorities at the local level are taking this seriously, the FBI needs to investigate this.

  8. I don’t know if this is the area where the incident took place, but you can see this type of activity from the 5th tee of Hendrick’s Field Golf Course in Belleville. There are always guys parked there, sitting in their cars, reading the newspaper, at all times of the day, and I suspect night as well. There’s no excuse for that to be happening in a public park with families having picnics nearby…a very unfortunate incident resulting from what is dangerous behavior to begin with…

  9. I can’t disagree with PR’s comment except for the final paragraph where he seems to view this as a closed case where “Only the police officer knows the real reason Mr Gaymon is dead today”. PR seems to be OK leaving it as is.
    That is not what I meant at all. This is still very much an open case, and it will remain so in the hearts and minds of many people, not the least Mr Gaymon’s friends and families, long after the authorities make their official pronouncements. No where in my post did I take the position that this incident did not warrant further investigation (if you review what I did write, you will see that I took no position at all regarding the investigation).
    My point was simply that we will never know, with a reasonable degree of certainty, what really happened in those few minutes in the park. Mr Gaymon is dead, and there are no corroborating witnesses or other testimonial evidence (such as video from a security camera). All we have is the police officer’s statement, and there is nothing to back up his story.
    And more to my point, there is such incredulity regarding the officer’s statement that even if the whole thing went down exactly as he said it did, his version of events will never be given sufficient credibility as to be accepted as the universal truth. We will never know what really happened there because we cannot know.
    How do you get to the truth of the matter if all you have is the officer’s statement, and nothing more?

  10. Dear PR:
    My name is Darnell Moore. I serve as Chair of the City of Newark’s LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission and am an active volunteer with the Newark Pride Alliance. As it turns out, I happen to be a member of two of the few Newark-based advocacy groups as named in your response. I am thankful for the nuanced issues that you’ve brought to the fore. I do, however, feel the need to respond so as to assuage some of the concerns that you’ve, rightly, pointed out.
    You wrote: “What I find perplexing, and a bit disturbing, is the manner in which these advocacy groups have adopted Mr. Gaymon as the proverbial poster-child for gay civil rights in Essex county, the oddly coincidental spelling of his last name notwithstanding.”
    One of the first decisions that the coalition of Newark-based advocacy groups made was the decision to NOT make mention of Gaymon’s PERCEIVED sexual identity, or for that matter, connect this tragedy to an single identity-politic agenda. Please see below the official statements that were released by the Commission and NPA when this incident occurred.
    “Darnell L. Moore, Chair of the LGBTQ Concerns Advisory Commission, added, ‘While we realize that this tragic case is under investigation and that many of the sensitive and critical pieces have yet to come together, the LGBTQ Commission takes any threat to or violation of any resident’s or visitor’s right to public safety seriously as well as threats to the safety of the police officers who work in our community. As such, we support the efforts of local and regional advocacy organizations who are working, in partnership with the Essex County Prosecutor’s office, the Office of the Attorney General or other local and state authorities to ensure that proper protocols were maintained in this specific case.’”
    “Bryan M-C Epps, CEO of the Newark Pride Alliance, responded, ‘We feel that in the aftermath of this occurrence, our responsibility as a community in Newark and in Essex County is to ensure that we collaboratively commit ourselves to the establishment and maintenance of safe spaces in which personal well-being is not threatened and personal identity is not infringed by social, cultural, or regulatory impediments.’”
    Please note that there was no mention of Gaymon’s PERCEIVED sexual identity in the aforementioned statements or subsequent statements. However, while we recognize that the focus of this particular case should be placed on the modus operandi of the police officer, we support the document requests made by ACLU and Garden State Equality regarding “the history of the County’s law enforcement operations at Branch Brook Park, including, 1) whether there has ever been any type of sting operation targeting cruising at the park, 2) what were the violations alleged to have been committed in the 200 arrests made at park in the last 18 months…It is our hope that this information will be of use to our members in understanding the perspective of law enforcement as to the challenges of policing cruising sites at public parks.(from our letter to the Sheriff and County Executive)” Many “local” residents and activists, some of whom have focused their public health programming in “cruising” areas like Branch Brook, want to ensure that individuals perceived or actually LGBT are not targeted in disproportionate numbers. This factor is important for many reasons, including the possibility that park users (who are merely perceived as LGBT) may opt not to use the parks at all out of fear they themselves will be “targeted.”
    You wrote: “Nobody but nobody should be soliciting for sex or engaging in sexual activities in this park or any other, period. In taking the position that the authorities are violating the civil rights of gay men by targeting them with the now-discontinued undercover operations, these advocacy groups seem to be defending the indefensible.”
    We agree with you; however, we offered-in our letter to the Sheriff-this contextual nuance:
    “While we would never endorse the violation of lewdness statutes, it is vital that all parties recognize that this cultural milieu has historically led many LGBTIQ individuals to our public parks as a place of refuge from a violent or otherwise intolerant society. Again, we do not endorse any violation of lewdness statutes, however we do offer this point to provide context to our discussion as to how to meaningfully address the issue of ?cruising? in Newark’s public parks.”
    We provided this context to reframe the moralistic view that too often paints queer bodies in parks-whether engaged in lewd activity or NOT-as lascivious persons only. Indeed, it has been my experience, and that of many others in our community, that LGBTQ adolescents and adults have often found refuge in public spaces, like parks. So, even while we would do not endorse the violation of lewdness statutes by ANYONE, we would like to illuminate that spaces, like parks, may be havens where some LGBTQ persons will congregate or hang out [and for that reason, would need to be safe from the potential targeting of law enforcement]. As such, I don’t read our effort to contextualize the use of space as the appearance of a desire on the part of our groups to “reinforce[e] the stereotype of gay men being sexual deviants, providing ammunition to bigots and groups that are really out to deprive gay men (indeed, all GLBT people) of their civil rights.” Indeed, I see it as a means to contravene such stereotyping.
    In any event, I hope that this lengthy note provides some context…and will further discussion about our approach. Thanks…

  11. I’ve never read anything on this site where “queer bodies” (in itself an annoying phrase, to say the least) were immediately perceived in public parks as up to no good. That is quite a stretch by dnnewark above, and an extremely unfair assumption about, say, heterosexuals. In fact, his whole letter is a bit dramatic and overdone.
    As to the “PERCEIVED” (all caps is a bit much too) sexual identity of Mr. Gaymon, well, as I’ve noted before, I hope we can all at least agree that he was probably not in Branch Brook Park in July to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. For the rest of it, as I’ve suggested before, we all simply have to wait for the inevitable official inquiry.
    It’s also kind of fun to cut through dnnewark’s seeming pomposity above about his membership in not one but two gay-friendly groups with possibly quite different ideas about sylvan propriety in Newark than most of the rest of us, and thus to wonder how many members either group in fact has.

  12. Darnell: Thank you for your thoughtful post. Mr. Gaymon’s death was pretty much immediately conflated with public gay sex when the county sheriff’s department released no details for several days except to say that it occurred in an area of the park known for that type of activity. In doing that, they were shaping the public’s perception of the incident even as they avoided any risk by disclosing details of their own officer’s actions. Nobody but Mr. Gaymon can say what he was there for that evening–so I agree with Pork Roll that it is important to avoid further muddying the waters by reinforcing the perception that Mr. Gaymon was in the park to solicit public gay sex unless a comprehensive, independent investigation proves it to be so.
    The community’s outrage over this tragedy certainly sheds light on the issue of how local police may or may not be preferentially targeting gay men (in what appears to have been an unnecessarily risky undercover operation). But I think it’s unfortunate that the only groups that still seem to be banging the drum for an independent investigation of this specific incident are gay rights organizations. (And please don’t get me wrong–I am grateful to those orgs for doing so.)
    As a member of the local LGBT community, I’m sympathetic to the argument that public places such as parks were considered a safe haven for gay men who were stigmatized–and often threatened–elsewhere. But times have changed, and these practices also must change. I can’t say it any better than the way Pork Roll said it:
    In appearing to condone this behavior the gay advocacy groups risk reinforcing the stereotype of gay men being sexual deviants, providing ammunition to bigots and groups that are really out to deprive gay men (indeed, all GLBT people) of their civil rights.
    We live in a time and place where it’s easier than ever for LGBT people to find appropriate partners, of whatever kind. There are dating web sites, gay/lesbian bars, chat rooms, activist groups, and tons of other places, and–for people who wish to find anonymous sex partners–craigslist. One cannot argue with any credibility that men seeking sex with men lack a ‘safe haven’ aside from public places known to be cruise spots.
    I think that local LGBT organizations need to take the lead on discouraging cruising and public sex–it’s bad for the individual, it’s bad for the queer community, and it’s bad for the general community. I am very much of the mind that consenting adults should engage in whatever activities float their boats, unless they’re hurting others in the process. Public sex is not in that category.

Comments are closed.