It’s a scenario that has become all too familiar in this country: An unarmed African American man is shot by a police officer, and the official spinmeisters go into overtime. In this case, the man, DeFarra “Dean” Gaymon, was in a gay cruising area in a park in Newark, New Jersey, and the officer was an undercover cop assigned to bust gay men for consensual sexual activity in the park.
Essex County Acting Prosecutor Robert Laurino spins the story this way: Gaymon approached an undercover officer for sex in Branch Brook Park and when the cop identified himself, the man “appeared to panic.” That’s when Gaymon, according to Laurino, “assaulted the police officer and fled.” The cop caught up to Gaymon by a pond and tried unsuccessfully to handcuff him.
“Mr. Gaymon reached into his pocket and lunged at the officer in an attempt to disarm the officer,” Laurino claims. That’s when the officer shot Gaymon in the abdomen. Gaymon died several hours later.
Police are refusing to identify the undercover cop. No witnesses have come forward to affirm or refute the officer’s account, and they probably never will, given the social stigma attached to sexual activity in parks.
Gaymon, CEO of the Credit Union of Atlanta, was visiting his home town for his 30th high school reunion. He was married and has four children. His sister, Kelly Gaymon Armstrong, told the Star-Ledger, “I do not believe that story. Not one bit. That is not my brother’s character. That is a made-up story...an absolute lie. The truth will come out.” She said that an independent investigation needs to happen.
John Joyce, president of the Montclair High School Alumni Association who worked with Gaymon on organizing the reunion, said that in Gaymon “you never met a kinder, nicer, more gentle person.”
Gaymon’s murder raises a lot of troubling questions. Why are armed police officers being sent into gay cruising spots, which are not considered dangerous areas? Why, when resources are scarce and budgets tight, are police wasting money and time they could devote to serious crime to patrolling parks to stop consensual sex? Are cops using entrapment (an attractive officer entices a man to make a pass at him, then cuffs him) to get their arrests, as they did in the past?
When Gaymon panicked, why didn’t the officer merely give him a warning and let him go, rather than risk the situation escalating? Even if Gaymon was masturbating, as the cop contends, is that “crime” worth a human life? Did Gaymon’s race play into the situation?
While some people may not like public sex, it doesn’t threaten anyone’s life or safety. Men who engage in this sort of activity usually keep it out of sight in bushes and in places where there’s not much public traffic.
A man walking around a park looking for sex should not be shot dead.
The police need to answer for this senseless killing, and queer leaders need to hold them accountable for it.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which has been nominated for both an American Library Association and a Lambda Literary award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com.