Beyond annoying

Jul 11, 2001 at 12:00 am

My, my and tsk, tsk. News Hits is still shaking its head over the outlandish — and highly annoying — law that the Detroit Police Department suddenly began enforcing at Rouge Park the past couple months and its inadequate explanation to the Detroit City Council as to why it’s doing so.

Jeff Montgomery, executive director of the Triangle Foundation, a nonprofit organization that represents gays and lesbians, requested a hearing before the council last week after being inundated by complaints from gay men claiming that Detroit police allegedly issued them “annoying person” tickets and seized their cars while they were in the park that borders Dearborn.

Montgomery said that officers are unfairly targeting gays by using decoys who attempt to lure men into sexual conversation. When they don’t respond to the sexual overtures, they are still ticketed (facing a fine of up to $500 if convicted), their cars are automatically taken and they have to pay $900 to get them back, he said.

“Most have broken no laws,” said Montgomery, who described the police tactic as nothing more than a means to collect a big chunk of change from gay men.

Inspector Curtis McGhee of the Sixth Precinct, which includes Rouge Park, told councilmembers that the Police Department — per Chief Benny Napoleon’s authorization — began cracking down on prostitution throughout the city in February. Rouge Park is part of the citywide sweep, he said. Businesses and citizens also have been complaining about people having sex in the park, said McGhee. But he assured the council that the Sixth Precinct — which issued 776 tickets since February, of which 200 were to people in the park — is “not focused on homosexual activity.”

If they aren’t targeting gay men, then why are they using male decoys, asked Councilmember Alberta Tinsley Talabi, who said the tactic bordered on “entrapment.” The councilwoman added that people would not have sex in the park if uniformed officers were patrolling it.

Councilmember Sheila Cockrel pointed out that if the goal is to crack down on prostitution or public sex, why is the Sixth Precinct issuing “annoying person” tickets instead of ones for “solicitation” or “indecent exposure”?

McGhee said the police met with the city Law Department and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and they decided the law was appropriate.

News Hits would love to have been a fly on the wall during that meeting. We can only imagine how this legal brain trust concluded that dusting off the nearly 40-year-old law was the way to go.

The council had apparently never heard of the ordinance until attorney Rudy Serra, who represents about five men issued annoying person tickets, read it to the six members present at the meeting. This 1964 law states:

No person shall use indecent or immoral language, nor shall any person improperly, lewdly, wantonly or wrongfully accost, ogle, insult, annoy, lay hands on or, by gesture, movement of body or otherwise, wrongfully molest any person in any public street, lane, alley, square, park, public vehicle or space in the city.”

What’s curious about this law — other than that it gives cops carte blanche to arrest just about anyone they damn well please — is that last April when News Hits first wrote about the Sixth Precinct allegedly targeting gay men in Rouge Park, the police were not issuing such tickets. At the time, Montgomery said that a dozen or so gay men complained to the Triangle Foundation about police allegedly issuing them tickets for solicitation though no money was exchanged or mentioned.

“It has snowballed since you wrote about it,” Montgomery told News Hits.

So why is the Sixth Precinct suddenly citing people for being “annoying?” McGhee never did answer this question. Maybe the reason, as Montgomery put it, is that cops who “play gay for the day” are “annoyed that these men were not interested in them.”

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]