Eighteen men ages 21 and above were arrested in a recent gay sex sting operation by the Manhattan Beach Police Department for offenses ranging from lewd conduct to indecent exposure in the public Marine Avenue beach bathroom. While the MBPD cannot be criticized for releasing the mug shots, it was unethical for media sources to spread them any further.
Regardless of their charges, which include “engaging in lewd conduct in a public place, loitering, utilizing a peephole in a restroom and indecent exposure,” the offenders’ crimes were victimless, and the media publication of the photos serves no journalistic or public safety purpose.
The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center expressed its concern over the publication of these photos, with chief of staff Darrel Cummings calling the release “shocking.” Other gay rights campaigns have expressed disapproval as well.
The MBPD should not be blamed for its actions. Those who speak out against MBPD should realize that police departments have the right to release the names of any suspects over 18 without regard to the crime.
Subjectively choosing which pieces of information to release for different crimes would be unethical for the department. It was only logical for the MBPD to be consistent with the release of the photographs and treat them similarly to other crimes.
Police policy aside, news sources should have used much more discretion in the further publication of the victims’ information and photographs. Police departments act according to established standards, but the publication of the photographs by outside news sources was unjustified and extreme.
Furthermore, the birthdays and cities of residence were also published, making the offenders susceptible to hateful and malicious attacks. In light of recent gay bullying suicides, such as that of 17-year-old Tyler Long, the media should have more respect for the suspects’ well-being. Long killed himself after being bullied when information about his sexuality was released, and the same could happen to any one of the 18 men arrested.
Though nothing can be done about the already-released newspapers with the men’s mug shots within, major online news sites must take down the men’s photos out of respect. There is no way to ensure that the photos will be gone forever once taken down. However, something must be done as a gesture of respect and to set a precedent for similar future cases.
It is unfortunate that such personal information was unnecessarily and unethically published by news outlets, but the MBPD cannot be held accountable for its initial release. This scandal will hopefully serve as a learning experience and similar, future affairs will be treated with more care.