gay or black in the garden state: is it still 1953 in NJ?

Bayard Rustin's 1953 mug shot*

The CEO of an Atlanta credit union, on a visit to New Jersey for his 30th high school reunion, has been shot and killed in a Newark park by an undercover policeman. The alleged sex-related incident ended in the senseless death of an unarmed man, DeFarra Gaymon, a successful businessman and a married father of four.

The official explanation, delivered by the acting Essex County prosecutor (that the officer, trying to arrest Gaymon for lewd behavior, had fired in self-defense), makes no sense, and even if the pieces could be fitted together they suggest a world I thought had disappeared decades ago: I remember what many urban parks looked like after dark half a century back, I know that the police played them for sport, and I know the combination could destroy lives, but it's now 2010. This Essex County park is located in a state which by most accounts ranks at the very top in the nation in laws extending equality and civil rights to both the gay and black communities (yes, the victim was black), and I thought we now had better uses for our constabulary - and that we could still afford real uniforms.

Actually, 57 years ago Bayard Rustin got off much easier than DeFarra Gaymon, whatever the unfortunate Atlanta businessman was doing in the park last Friday night.

According to the New York Times story, "The officer, whose name was not released because of his undercover work, had been on what is not usually a particularly dangerous assignment, scouring the park, in northern Newark, for men seeking sex." The Times also tells us: "The officer and his partner were patrolling the park in plain clothes, part of an operation that has been going on for years, said Mr. [Robert D.] Laurino, the prosecutor."

And that would be, . . . an assignment to arrest men who have no interest in frightening the horses. In the email he sent out before dawn this morning my friend, the activist Bill Dobbs, reminds us that "Those who seek hookups in such locales traditionally shield their activities from uninterested parties."

The Essex County sheriffs have been very interested for years. May we ask why?

The whole incident stinks, and the only hope for justice, and reform of current police tactics, is the power of the presumed outrage of both Gaymon's family and the community or communities targeted by a law enforcement agency.

In his letter, Dobbs asks:

What exactly was this undercover officer doing in a park known for cruising? Uniformed cops are safer and more effective for such situations – less danger when an arrest is made since cops identities are clear. Who approved this undercover operation? Was it a ‘sting’ operation, enticing men and then arresting them? Was the cop given this assignment considered attractive to other men? Were there backup officers involved? What does the NJ gay lobby think about this? The only person who seems to be quoted on NJ matters gay, Steven Goldstein, is so rabidly and single-mindedly pro-gay marriage - will he and the state-wide gay political group Garden State Equality speak about an alleged sex-related incident that ended in the death of an unarmed African American man? According to the Star Ledger newspaper several hundred arrests have been made in that park over a year and a half, where has Garden State Equality been? How much money has been wasted on this operation?

Additional links:

The (Newark-based) Star-Ledger

Atlanta Journal Constitution

The image at the top is of Bayard Rustin's mug shot. His Wikipedia entry reads, in part:

In 1953, Rustin was arrested in Pasadena, California for homosexual activity. Originally charged with vagrancy and lewd conduct, he pleaded guilty to a single, lesser charge of "sex perversion" (as consensual sodomy was officially referred to in California then) and served 60 days in jail.

[image from GBMNews]

Where has Garden State Equality been? Yesterday we met for hours with some of the best lawyers in the country to get their input and ideas to get justice, for we wanted to more than issue a boilerplate statement of disgust - and you bet we're disgusted. We're damn outraged.

The result is the letter we sent early today to Essex County law enforcement authories below. It is the first step of many you'll see in the weeks ahead. Garden State Equality is renowned throughout our state to be DAMN RABID in cases in fighting government abuse like this - rabid and relentless.

By the way, if you're going to give me or my organization a cheap shot, get it right. I don't have a middle name or the middle initial you gave me.

The Honorable Armando B. Fontoura
Essex County Sheriff
50 W. Market Street
Newark, New Jersey 07102

The Honorable Robert D. Laurino
Acting Essex County Prosecutor
50 West Market Street
Newark, New Jersey 07102

cc: LGBTQ Advisory Committee, City of Newark
Newark Pride Alliance

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dear Sheriff Fontoura and Prosecutor Laurino:

On behalf of our two organizations, Garden State Equality and the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey, we express our outrage over the tragic killing of DeFarra Gaymon in Branch Brook Park last Friday night by a member of the Essex County Sherriff’s Department.

First, we ask you immediately to inform us and our colleagues in Newark – including the LGBTQ Advisory Committee, City of Newark, and the Newark Pride Alliance – whether the killing was part of a sting operation in the park targeting gay men specifically or LGBT people specifically. If so, we ask you to cease and desist such operations in Branch Brook Park, and any others like it in Essex County.

Second, we request that you meet with us and our colleagues as soon as possible.

Third, we request an independent investigation of the killing as soon as possible.

Fourth, we herein formally request, under the Open Public Records Act, any and all documents related to all previous lewdness arrests in Branch Brook Park from January 1, 2005 through the present; and any and all documents related to previous lewdness arrests by, uses of force by, complaints about, disciplinary action against, and dispositions regarding allegations concerning, this officer from January 1, 2005 through the present.

Garden State Equality will pay for the costs of your providing copies of documents under this OPRA request. However, if the cost thereof is likely to exceed $1000, please contact Steven Goldstein before proceeding. He may be reached at [email protected] or at mobile (917# 449-8918.

To state emphatically:

We believe any operation targeting people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation would be a violation of state law. New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination expressly outlaws discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, among other categories.

In no way do we condone any violation of lewdness statutes. But any sting operation targeting gay men or LGBT people specifically, or anyone perceived as such, is unconscionable – and as we strongly believe, illegal.

We make no assumption as to the sexual orientation of the victim. Our thoughts and prayers and with his wife and four children.

Please get back to us at your most immediate convenience. Again, Steven Goldstein of Garden State Equality may be reached at [email protected] or at mobile #917# 449-8918. Barbra Casbar Siperstein of GRAANJ may be reached at [email protected] or mobile #732) 887-8189.

Steven Goldstein
Chair, Garden State Equality

Barbra Casbar Siperstein
Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey

hey james,

good to see you give bill dobbs and his concerns some blogger attention. and thanks for the history lesson with rustin.

hey steven,

it's good you're holding those meetings and sending out letters, but don't forget about the need to be visible in front of the police station and city hall in newark. you and GSE are able to turn out sizable numbers of community members in trenton for gay marriage stuff. i hope you'll soon rally your troops in a public protest about the many problems surrounding the tragic killing of gaymon.