Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: Mann in the mirror

I always hate to see someone humiliated or punished for behavior I’ve also engaged in, which is somewhat self-serving, but more an expression of kindred loyalty. It’s like the empathy most people would have for someone who got a speeding ticket for going 70 in a 65, a mixture of, “There but for the grace…” and, “Fuck ‘The Man!’”

When I worked for divorce lawyers, sometimes the opposing parent was a weed smoker, and given society’s views about drugs and children, it would be legal malpractice to not use marijuana to impugn a parent’s fitness. In reality, pot is as reliable an indicator of someone’s parenting ability as their favorite movie genre, and some of the most toxic break-ups might not have induced so much childhood trauma if mom and dad (or mom and mom) had equitably divided a burning joint while working out their separation.

I haven’t enjoyed the arrest of DeKalb County Sheriff Jeffrey Mann as much as I should have, although I’m cynical enough to appreciate a law enforcement leader being ensnared by the web of incarceration our society has mistaken for a safety net. An Atlanta officer claims he was in “an area of the park known for sexual acts after dark” when Mann exposed himself then fled, and the media have castigated the sheriff while Gov. Nathan Deal attempts to castrate him via a special investigation.

As a man who has sought and stumbled into sexual encounters in Piedmont Park (usually) after dark, it’s troubling to see Mann’s reputation and career face the death penalty for an offense as severe as jaywalking or riding a bike on the sidewalk. Thankfully for Mann, entrapment seems an easy and obvious defense if the officer was wearing APD bicycle patrol shorts.

Many folks are disconcerted by an apparently closeted cop using his one-eyed monster to look for sex in a public park, but cruising among the bushes is as old as Adam and Eve, and it’s often nowhere near as obscene as folks perceive. This weekend, thousands of families with thousands of children will descend on Piedmont Park for the annual Jazz Festival, and as they listen to the Tivon Pennicott Quartet, they’ll be blissfully unaware of the inevitable blow jobs being enjoyed in the secluded crevices of the 185-acre park.

That’s because the majority of “public” sex takes place safely out of view, or as in the allegations against Mann, at an hour where they are not disruptive to anyone using the public location for its intended purpose. Granted, stray condoms are a particularly noxious form of litter, but plenty of people who engage in public sex are intent on leaving no trace of their naughtiness.

Neighborhood activists have long claimed that late-night sex in Piedmont Park attracts drugs and crime to the area, ignoring how men have been cruising the trails for decades, and the biggest increases Midtown has seen have been in property value and rent. And despite urban legends among gay men who have “a friend of a friend” who has been in the trails after sunset, murder and armed robbery are not routine.
I admire Mann defending his character and refusing to resign from office, although his long-term strategy is a mystery, and his real-time denials are incomplete and unconvincing. Enough with the wiggling, Sheriff Mann.

Deal’s investigation into Mann’s arrest seems to be the biggest threat to the sheriff’s survival, as the governor has spoken and reacted to the incident with an urgency that is unable to hide his disgust. Deal’s fervor is unmatched by many DeKalb residents and political leaders, with no intense push for Mann to resign despite admittedly bringing an “unfavorable light” upon the county.

Perhaps DeKalb voters, who have seen all but one of the sheriffs they elected in the last 50 years face criminal charges, consider going to “an area of the park known for sexual acts after dark” in search of a jerk-off buddy a refreshing show of restraint from their chief law enforcement officer.