Showing posts with label Morality Police. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morality Police. Show all posts

May 5, 2016

2016 and Vice Stings After Gay Men in Bathrooms and Parks-Still Goes on




                                                                          
                                                                          

   
The police reports all began with the same boilerplate language: Citizens had complained of lewd conduct in several public bathrooms around Long Beach, California—bathrooms known as popular spots for cruising, or semi-public sex between gay men. These complaints, the reports explained, prompted the vice detail to investigate. Undercover officers entered the bathrooms in question as neutral observers and were quickly solicited for sex by gay men. Once the men exposed themselves, the officers arrested them and charged them. Over several years, the Long Beach police arrested scores of gay men this way. Or so their reports claimed.

There was one problem: The police reports were false.

On April 29, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Halim Dhanidina issued a seething ruling indicting the Long Beach Police Department for “harbor[ing] animus toward homosexuals in its undercover investigations of lewd conduct.” The department, Dhanidina found, consistently lied in its police reports, ensnared gay men in a borderline entrapment scheme, and “deliberately singled out” gay men for arrest “on the basis of [their] sexuality.” This “discriminatory prosecution of men who engage in homosexual sex,” Dhanidina held, is barred by the Equal Protection Clauses of the federal and state constitutions. His decision is a startling reminder that anti-gay animus continues to infect policing in 2016—even in those liberal bastions where gay men feel most safe.

The trouble began for the Long Beach Police when they arrested Rory Moroney in the fall of 2014. Moroney was about to leave a public park bathroom when a man walked in, entered the largest stall, left the door open, and stood at the toilet without urinating, holding his hands near his crotch. The man stared at Moroney intensely and smiled. Moroney placed his hand near his own crotch and the man smiled again. Having performed a classic cruising ritual, Moroney allegedly pulled down the waistband of his shorts for several seconds. Suddenly, the man walked out, and the police entered the bathroom to arrest Moroney. The man was Detective Raymond Arcala, an undercover officer in the vice unit.

Moroney, believing he had been unfairly targeted or even entrapped, hired Bruce Nickerson, one of the country’s foremost experts in defending gay men against undercover sting operations. Nickerson, sensing that the problem extended beyond Moroney, swiftly requested records and information from the Long Beach Police pertaining to its lewd-conduct investigations. The police department vigorously fought the request, striving to keep its records secret. It lost. The trove of information the police were compelled to produce revealed a discriminatory scheme more far-reaching than Moroney could have imagined.

Vice units across California are now on alert that judges will not unquestioningly countenance discriminatory prosecution of gay men.
For years, the Long Beach Police have insisted that its policies do not target gay men, but simply respond to complaints of lewdness—which, it asserts, disproportionately involve homosexual acts. The department’s records tell a different story. Officers routinely receive complaints about lewd conduct involving men and women engaged in heterosexual acts at parks and beaches within the city. For at least the past six years, the vice detail has followed up on exactly zero of these complaints; by its own admission, the detail does not even utilize undercover investigations in responding to complaints of heterosexual lewdness. In fact, none of the officers involved in the unconstitutional sting scheme ever arrested a single woman, despite the uncontested fact that many women were reported to be engaged in lewd public behavior.

Instead, the department zeroed in on a handful of public bathrooms that were known to be frequented by gay men seeking to cruise. The vice detail trained officers to mimic cruising rituals, acting as decoys in order to lure men into cruising them. Often, vice officers would stand at toilets with the stall door open for lengthy periods, their bodies positioned to give the impression that their genitals were exposed, seeking out eye contact with other men. When their targets took the bait, nearby officers moved in for the arrest—though not always right away; at least once, an officer watched a suspect masturbate for 45 seconds before he was arrested.

During Moroney’s trial, members of the vice detail maintained that, as Dhanidina phrased it, “they only acted as neutral observers while undercover.” After hours of testimony from officers, witnesses, and Moroney himself, Dhanidina rejected that claim. It is “evident,” he wrote, “that each undercover officer acted as a decoy as part of a sting operation designed to specifically target the defendant and other men like him who engage in homosexual sex. Each of the undercover officers intentionally engaged in conduct designed to communicate receptiveness to the sexual advances of their targets.”

Surveying this evidence, Dhanidina ruled that “the Long Beach Police Department harbored animus toward homosexuals in its undercover investigations of lewd conduct.” Dhanidina noted that, in addition to singling out gay men for prosecution, the vice detail prevaricated in its reports, falsely stating that citizens had complained about lewd same-sex conduct where they had set up their stings when no such complaints were ever lodged. Moreover, every report about one particular restroom dwelt on its purported proximity to a high school—“despite the fact that the school was nearly a football field away,” that “none of the reports contained any reference to students from that school being present anywhere near the public restroom at the time of the investigation,” and that many investigations occurred “at night, after school hours.” Dhanidina explained that the reports were clearly attempted to depict cruising as a threat to children, then concluded:

This position only finds support in the rhetoric of homophobia that seeks to portray homosexual men as sexual deviants and pedophiles. To the extent that the Long Beach Police Department has tried to appeal to this view by gratuitously referencing school children in the reports of their lewd conduct investigations, the court rejects it wholeheartedly.
Dhanidina ultimately dismissed the charges against Moroney on the grounds of discriminatory prosecution. Finally, Dhanidina castigated the Long Beach Police for their unconstitutional practices. During Moroney’s trial, the defense called experts to testify to the fact that law enforcement officers across the country have long persecuted gays by singling out cruising spots and arresting the men who frequent them. In a striking peroration, Dhanidina gestured toward this dark history:

Equal treatment … is the cornerstone of our Constitutional democracy, the glue that binds the disparate components of society together. Our commitment to it is a necessary precondition to achieving a fair and pluralistic society. Too often in our history has an unpopular group been made to bear the brunt of discriminatory tactics by law enforcement. The fact that members of these groups might be vulnerable to abuse requires the law to be a shield rather than a bludgeon. The arbitrary enforcement of the law as seen in this case undermines the credibility of our legal system, eroding public confidence in our ability to achieve just results. This court is determined to do its part to prevent this from occurring.

As Phillip Zonkel of the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported, Nickerson, Moroney’s lead attorney, was thrilled with the ruling, saying it was “powerful because it sends a message far beyond this case. It sends a message to police departments throughout the state who do these decoy operations for lewd conduct cases.” That is surely correct: Vice units across California are now on alert that judges will not unquestioningly countenance discriminatory prosecution of gay men. But that’s California—a dark blue state with fairly progressive policing. Gay cruising stings still occur across the country, from Delaware and Louisiana to Texas and even New York. Dhanidina’s ruling can’t put a stop to these constitutionally dubious policing practices. It can only remind officers that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection binds government at every level—from the legislature all the way to the vice squad.


 is a writer for Slate. He covers the law and LGBTQ issues.

April 23, 2016

Who-What is this Islamic Morality Police




News that Iran has deployed thousands of undercover agents to enforce rules on dress has cast the spotlight on an institution that is a major feature of daily life in several Muslim-majority countries.
Police forces tasked with implementing strict state interpretations of Islamic morality exist in several other states, including Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Malaysia.
Many - especially those with an affinity with Western lifestyles - chafe against such restrictions on daily life, but others support the idea, and growing religious conservatism has led to pressure for similar forces to be created in countries that do not have them.
Here are some places where "morality police" forces patrol:

IRAN

Name: Gasht-e Ershad (Persian for Guidance Patrols), supported by Basij militia
Who they are: Iran has had various forms of "morality police" since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but the Gasht-e Ershad are currently the main agency tasked enforcing Iran's Islamic code of conduct in public.
Their focus is on ensuring observance of hijab - mandatory rules requiring women to cover their hair and bodies and discouraging cosmetics.



A policewoman looks out of a van of Iran's morality police in Tehran in July 2007Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe Gasht-e Ershad were formed during a crackdown on "un-Islamic" dress in 2007

They are empowered to admonish suspects, impose fines or arrest members of the public, but under reforms that come into force this year, will soon no longer be able to do any of these things.
Instead, 7,000 undercover Gasht-e Ershad agents will be deployed to report suspected transgressions to the police, who will decide whether to take action.
The Gasht-e Ershad is thought to draw a lot of its personnel from the Basij, a hard-line paramilitary unit; it also includes many women.
What people think: They are mainly seen as a scourge for urban women - usually from wealthier social groups - who try to push the boundaries of the dress code.
This includes wearing the headscarf as far back on the head as possible, or by wearing looser clothing, especially in the heat of summer, although men sporting "Western" hairstyles are also at risk.
Fear of encountering them has even prompted the creation of Android app that helps people avoid Gasht-e Ershad mobile checkpoints.
President Hassan Rouhani has expressed opposition to the Gasht-e Ershad, but Iran's constitution gives him little sway over the security forces.

SAUDI ARABIA




Saudi women wait in line in the women's section at fast-food restaurant in a mall in the capital Riyadh on 26 September 2011.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionPublic socialising between unmarried men and women is not permitted in Saudi Arabia

Name: Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, or Mutawa (Arabic for Particularly obedient to God)
Who they are: Formed in 1940, the Mutawa is tasked with enforcing Islamic religious law - Sharia - in public places.
This includes rules forbidding unrelated males and females to socialise in public, as well as a dress code that encourages women to wear a veil covering all but their eyes.
Instead of a police-style uniform, they wear a traditional Saudi robe and keffiyeh.
What people think: Although the Mutawa is widely disliked among liberals and the youth, general opinion in the conservative Sunni-majority kingdom supports it.
But even conservatives have been irritated by recent high-profile cases deemed excessive or internationally embarrassing, such as an actor being charged for letting fans take selfies with him, or a female mannequin being seized because of its clothing.



The former head of Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Abdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, pictured in 2012.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionAbdul Latif Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh - Mutawa head between 2012 and 2015 - was seen as a relative reformist

Perhaps in response to this criticism, the authorities have curbed the force's powers, as a result of which it can no longer arrest or pursue people but can only report them to the regular police.

SUDAN

Name: Public Order Police
Who they are: The Public Order Police was set up in 1993 to enforce Sharia enshrined in law for Muslims in the then-northern Sudan by President Omar al-Bashir.



Sudanese journalist Lubna al-Hussein (l) talks to the press outside the court in Khartoum on 4 August 2009.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionSudanese journalist Lubna al-Hussein (l) was prosecuted for wearing trousers

They have the power to arrest, and suspects are tried - often at speed - in special Public Order Courts; punishments can include flogging or prison.
What people think: Many Sudanese resent their activity as an oppressive and often arbitrary interference in private lives, although some - mostly Salafists and other religious conservatives - support their activities.
The force is known for shutting down private mixed-sex events, upbraiding women for immodest dress and raiding businesses seen as being in breach of Sharia.
It drew international condemnation when female journalist Lubna al-Hussein was arrested and jailed after being caught wearing loose-fitting slacks in public in 2008.

MALAYSIA

Name: Various, usually collectively known as "religious officers"
Who they are: These are bodies run by Malaysia's federal states - or the federal government for federal territories - to enforce Sharia, which applies to the two thirds of the population who are Muslim.
They have the power of arrest, and possible offences range from day-time eating during Ramadan to women and men being "in close proximity".
Cases are tried by Sharia courts separate from the ordinary court system.
What people think: Religious officers have often been accused of overstepping their remit - a situation often muddied by ambiguity about which takes precedence in certain cases - normal legislation or Sharia.
In April, religious officers arrested several people during a raid on a transgender group's fundraising event, accusing participants of hosting a beauty pageant, which Muslims were banned from attending by a 1996 fatwa, or Islamic religious decree.
The group denies the accusation.

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