Up until now, we thought the worst thing that could happen at a men's room urinal is that we're squished in-between two rotund gentleman audibly relieving themselves after holding it in for an English Patient-length film. But there is something much creepier: when you're being stared at by an undercover cop who is trying to determine whether you are masturbating at a urinal. "You know how when you have a feeling someone is looking at you?" a man named Miguel told the Times about his experience with this phenomenon. "So I look over and see someone is smiling at me. It was like a smirk."
The 43-year-old Miguel, who didn't want his last name used, is one of dozens of men who have been arrested at Port Authority on public lewdness charges; there have been 60 arrests for this in 2014, seven times more than last year. It's yet another example of Police Commissioner Bratton's investment in the 'Broken Windows' theory of policing—if one man shakes too vigorously after micturating, it's only a matter of time before millions of men are just indiscriminately unloading fluids on the streets (which, admittedly, a lot of men already do).
The Times spoke with several of these men who say they were just urinating and "were victims of aggressive and intrusive police tactics." There's been an average of two men arrested-per-week at Port Authority this year, even though the head PA cop, Capt. John Fitzpatrick, admits that complaints about sexual behavior in the men's room "are few and far between."
This isn't to say it doesn't happen sometimes, but an average of twice a week seems a bit suspect. (Though to be fair, the urinals at Port Authority are pretty attractive.) And reading between the lines, the Times agrees:
In a motion filed in August, a Legal Aid lawyer argued that the Port Authority’s interpretation of the law seemed to criminalize the use of public urinals.
“Surely, the use of a urinal in a public bathroom requires that man expose his unclothed penis,” wrote the lawyer, Caroline Glickler. The motion also noted that the urinals in question “are separated by partitions designed to enhance privacy” and the fact that her client, Cornell Holden, was standing at a urinal “indicates an attempt to have privacy.”
Mr. Holden, a 28-year-old baker, said he noticed that a bald man at the urinal next to him — who he later learned was a plainclothes police officer — was looking at him. A privacy divider, as well as a duffel bag slung over Mr. Holden’s shoulder, separated them.
“While I’m using the bathroom, he stepped back and kind of looks at me and then walks off,” Mr. Holden recalled. As he left, two officers approached him, asking what he had just been doing. “I said: ‘Nothing. I was using the bathroom,’ ” Mr. Holden said. “They pulled me aside, asked for my ID and then put handcuffs on me.”
Holden claims he wasn't doing anything lewd—he says he was "peeing in the beginning, but I was shaking off when the guy stepped back and looked at me." Surely someone just following the advice of a pop star and can't be blamed for not wanting to get his clothes dampened. Holden, who is gay, also believes the arrests may be fueled by homophobia, and claims he overheard one officer refer to the bald plainclothes officer as "the gay whisperer."
Fitzgerald still defends the undercover stings: "They are not sidling up to somebody, trying to sneak a peek and misrepresenting what the person is doing," said the captain. "There is no mistaking their behavior." Except of course for the fact that the Legal Aid Society believes that is exactly what happened.
For now, we would advise men at urinals to keep their eyes locked directly in front of them and shake at the end very slowly, lest there is any confusion.