A procession of speakers at a Feb. 21 rally in Greenwich Village demanded an end to undercover police stings that target middle-aged gay men who frequent porn shops. About 150 people attended the rally, which was held in Christopher Park across from the Stonewall Inn, site of a 1969 police raid and subsequent riots that marked the birth of the modern gay rights movement.

City Councilperson Rosie Mendez (D-Lower East Side) spoke during the rally Saturday to a crowd which held aloft an array of signs including “Stop the False Arrests” and “Keep Your Laws Out of My Ass.”

“Shame on Mayor Bloomberg and his police department!” Mendez shouted to the crowd, which responded by chanting “Shame!”

Robert Pinter, 53, is leading the current fight against the NYPD after having been arrested for allegedly prostituting himself in October. The rally Saturday followed a meeting called by Council Speaker Christine Quinn that included representatives of the NYPD Vice Squad and a rally on Feb. 14 at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Upper East Side residence.

To ensure that the city’s undercover police operations do not unjustly target certain communities, Pinter formed the Coalition to Stop the Arrests.

“We’re hoping to keep the spotlight on the arrests,” Pinter said after the rally. He added that once the community feels assured that its demands have been met, the group will begin broadening the issues it represents.

The campaign, according to Pinter, has brought out more “veteran activists.” Among them is Rob Smith, a member of the Coalition to Stop the Arrests.

“We’ve been through this. This isn’t the first time it’s been done,” said Smith. He does admit, as longtime AIDS activist Andy Velez also mentioned Saturday, that things have improved for the gay community. Velez told the crowd that “better is not good enough” and that the fight for equal justice would have to continue.

Pinter recounted his experience during the rally, saying that while he was buying a DVD, a young man asked to have sex with him, and Pinter agreed. The man, an undercover NYPD Vice Squad Officer, offered Pinter $50 for oral sex as they were leaving. Pinter did not respond, was arrested, and spent 24 hours in jail.

In a press release, Pinter wrote that his Legal Aid Society attorney had advised him to plead guilty to a lesser charge: disorderly conduct. Linda Poust-Lopez, a supervising attorney at the Legal Aid Society, explained that this plea is standard for people arrested without a previous record.

“What’s odder about the video store cases is most of them are people with no records,” said Poust-Lopez. She also said the fact that most had “good” jobs stood in glaring contrasts to the average prostitute’s portfolio.

According to Poust-Lopez, Pinter’s decision to organize people around the issue is uncommon among her clients.

“I’m happy that somebody’s talking about it publically,” Poust-Lopez said. “Most of my clients in those situations are very, very nervous about making their situations public.”

Pinter initially responded to the arrest by reaching out to the New York City Anti-Violence Project. He also contacted Duncan Osborne, the associate editor of the local Gay City News, which led to an investigation by the paper.

The investigation revealed a pattern of what Pinter and other activists have been calling the false arrests of middle-aged gay men in porn shops.

As the rally came to a close, announcements were made about follow-up events at the LGBT Center and comments were exchanged between attendees about how the rally had brought old acquaintances together.

This article was originally published here:  http://www.indypendent.org/2009/02/27/gay-men-porn-shops/