Been thinking about Tony Bouza: Gay rights and Tony

Tony Bouza


Don Fraser picked an outsider to be chief of police. Before Fraser was elected mayor in November of 1979, Charlie Stenvig, head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, had been elected mayor three times in the previous decade, running law-and-order campaigns. He was defeated twice, but still was retained as an MPD officer.
The MPD had a vice squad, busy harassing and entrapping gay men. The cops failed to investigate gay murders in Loring Park. The MPD raided the gay bathhouse twice: the night before Fraser was elected mayor in November 1979 and the night before Tony Bouza was sworn in as chief of police in February of 1980.
I organized the Minnesota Gay Defense Fund in November of 1979 to defend gay men arrested without cause. We demanded jury trials, and all our defendants pleaded not guilty. It was modeled on the civil rights movement, to tie up the district courts. Our lawyer, a former public defender, was Jeffrey Anderson.
That was the climate when Tony Bouza arrived in Minneapolis. Our community was very angry about the second bathhouse raid, where some were cited with sodomy; some wanted to burn squad cars. We knew Bouza was a liberal cop from New York, but people needed to vent their anger. What better place than City Hall?
Two defendants, gay activists Doug Victor and Patrick Schwartz, burned their citations in the City Council chambers. That set off smoke detectors, then fire alarms. Tony had thought he was sent to Siberia but said, “This place has life!” At the press conference Tony was asked what his first priority was.
He said, “To seek political exile in Rio de Janeiro.” Tony went downstairs to his office and found the head of the vice squad, Officer Locke, with his shoes on his desk.
There were many meetings with Bouza, Mayor Fraser and County Attorney Tom Johnson. Soon Tony got rid of the vice squad and demoted Charlie Stenvig.
That spring Tony had the police softball team play an all-star gay team. Tony had to give the cops a paid day off to get them to play.
The Minneapolis Tribune cartoonist, Richard Guindon, drew a cop saying, “It was bad enough playing a gay team but losing to them was unspeakable.”
Today there are open gay and lesbian cops at the MPD, largely thanks to Tony.
Getting rid of bad cops was very difficult for Tony. The cops were protected by civil service contracts and the powerful and evil Police Officers Federation. Not much has changed 40 years later, with blatant racism and brutality toward Native Americans and African Americans.
Tony told me, “Mayor Frey withdrawing cops from protecting the Third Precinct headquarters was a tragic mistake. You don’t tell cops not to enforce the law. It was a message to the criminal class. They could do anything.”

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