If you’ve never been to the New York Port Authority bus terminal, it’s like an intergalactic space hub, but instead of aliens and astronauts hurrying off to their nearest teleporters and shuttles, it’s a bunch of harried travelers in jerseys and sweatpants hauling their luggage to the nearest discount bus or pretzel stand. The entire place looks like a mall and smells like a damp sock — it’s quite magical, except, you know, the opposite.
In the bathrooms of this depressing place plainclothes police officers allegedly targeted men who seemed “gay or non-gender conforming” and arrested them under “false charges of public masturbation,” according to a class-action lawsuit filed this week against the Port Authority Police Department.
The officers allegedly looked in the spaces between the dividers separating the urinals to get a better look at men handling their penises — y’know, like you do when you’re trying not to pee all over yourself — and then would arrest the men for jerking off.
The lawsuit claims that these arrests have been going on for years. According to The New York Post, “One man who was arrested says he even heard other officers congratulate the cop who busted him, calling him ‘the gay whisperer’ because of the large amount of seemingly homosexual men he cuffed.”
The parties filing the suit seek a court injunction forbidding future arrests. By focusing on queer men in the Port Authority, the police are literally targeting working class and marginalized queer travelers. These aren’t well-heeled businessmen, but average on-the-go folks who lack the funds, time and legal expertise to fight police in courts. Studies have shown that poorer people will confess to serious crimes rather than risk long, expensive court battles. Some might also plead guilty just to avoid the publicity of a scandalous trial, especially considering that you can still be fired in many states just for being LGBTQ.
It’s also worth noting that New York police have a pretty shady record when it comes to stings targeting the gay, bi and queer men. In 2009, the NYPD sent attractive younger men to proposition older queers in sex shops and then arrest them as soon as they left the shop.
The Young Turks reported on similar allegations against New York City officers in 2014, calling it a “shakedown.” At the time of the reporting, Port Authority officers had arrested more than 60 men for masturbation in a second-floor bus bathroom. The Young Turks report notes numerous accounts of men who claim they were simply using the bathroom, only to have a man — later discovered to be a plainclothes officer — staring at them while urinating. Despite maintaining they were doing nothing wrong, they were arrested.
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