Numerous complaints are coming forth that in Michigan’s Grand Rapids, Kent County, Police are setting up “sex stings” to arrest gay men in public parks, but the men are not being arrested for having sex in public but are being arrested because they are gay.
Equality Michigan say sheriff’s deputies arrested 33 gay men in county parks in 2010 under the state’s soliciting and accosting statute, but claim about half of those arrests involved two men merely speaking to undercover deputies, or making casual contact like holding hands.
The men arrested face the cost of having their cars impounded and run the devastating risk of being placed on Michigan’s sex offender list for life.
Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma on Tuesday defended his deputies, whom he said are merely trying to keep county parks safe for everyone. The Michigan statue reads “A person 16 years of age or older who accosts, solicits, or invites another person in a public place or in or from a building or vehicle, by word, gesture, or any other means, to commit prostitution or to do any other lewd or immoral act is guilty of a crime.”
But according to Miriam Aukerman, West Michigan staff attorney for the ACLU, who is investigating the allegations says “In these cases, it’s the officers who are making the approaches,” Aukerman said. “It’s the officers who are doing the accosting and soliciting.”
Aukerman also added: “If you look at the exact language of the statute, you could apply it to what happens in bars and restaurants in Kent County on any Friday or Saturday night. It’s legal to go to a park, a bar or a restaurant and say, ‘Hey, would you like to go to my place?’ We want our parks to be safe places for everyone and that includes gay people who are merely flirting.”
Surprisingly one of the most outspoken voices against the police entrapment of gay men comes from the Rev. Bill Freeman of Holland who has stood up and said that targeting gay men is also illegal and should be stopped.
“There is no money changing hands, so this isn’t prostitution,” Freeman said. “We’re talking about two consenting adults who are trying to hook up together and if one of them is an undercover officer and the only thing one of them has done is say, ‘Let’s get together someplace,’ I don’t see the problem. They’re making it a problem because they’re targeting gays.”