My title doesn’t refer to the lowly Atlanta Braves baseball team, who host the lowly New York Mets, in a game that seemed to be important back in April but is now as meaningless as the word “justice” in Georgia’s capital city. Atlanta’s having lots of image problems. First, Michael Vick, their star quarterback, makes headlines for the torture and murder of dogs, then native son Kanye West goes whacko in front of the entire world, and now at least 15 police officers raid a gay club and handcuff, hold, and harass 62 patrons for over an hour. Some are held for many hours. I’m not visiting Atlanta anytime soon. Nor should anyone, until they get this gay raid thing straight.
A squad called the “Red Dog Unit” (no relation to Michael Vick) invaded a 23-year-old gay bar called Atlanta Eagle 11 nights ago. They threw the patrons on the ground–all 62 of them–and refused to say why. Patrons were told to shut the “f” up, as the other “f” word was liberally used. A number of patrons reported one officer as saying “this is a lot more fun than busting ‘n’s’ with crack.” The officers came with a great deal of handcuffs, but no warrant. They didn’t notify LGBT Liaison Officer Dani Lee Harris, who everyone in power says should’ve been told. Everyone, except for lame duck Mayor Shirley Franklin, who isn’t saying anything. Police Chief Richard Pennington has said that Harris should have been told and that a full investigation will be carried out; also, that police officers will be punished if they are found to have acted inappropriately.
My sources say, “nothing will happen”—that he will “drag his feet and hope this goes away as he always does”. They cite another case involving the “Red Dog Unit” in 2006: this same crew kicked in the door (this time possessing a “no knock warrant’) of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston. Three cops were convicted for violating her civil rights and for the cover-up of the crime, including false statements that they had received a tip about drug activity. They each got 5 to 10 years. They shot the woman, and she died, and Chief Pennigton, my source said, did “little but get in the way.”
It took the federal government to step in and make arrests and get convictions. Pennington says he’s gone when Mayor Shirley Franklin goes in January, and my sources doubt he will lead an investigation to prosecute cops who raided a gay club. As time goes on, the trail seems to be leading squarely towards the silent mayor’s office. Make no mistake: Atlanta’s still a backwards town, not the sophisticated city it pretends to be.
In 2002, Governor Ray Barnes removed the Confederate flag from the capital and lost the election, as a powerful group called ‘flaggers’ campaigned against him. My source continued, “Pennington is not a bad guy; he’s just not a good administrator. For a group of police to be acting so blatantly homophobic, so ridiculously outside the law you can’t believe this can be happening but under Pennington’s loose control, anything can happen.” Another source cites armed muggings of students at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech that have “students living in fear with little police response.” Most of the politicians have lined up and are rallying with the gay community. Some wonder if “this was the best use of limited police availability in a city where crime rates are going up: the arrest of four go-go boys for dancing in their underwear, and three other employees and an owner for allowing it to happen, seems a bit silly.” After hours of searching, nothing was found. The Washington Blade ran this:
Thursday is “underwear night” at the Eagle. Ramey [Eagle club co-owner] called the complaints lodged against the club “ridiculous.” Ramey said he didn’t understand the need for the raid, saying they have a good relationship with the police and their neighbors. He said that while he doesn’t have a permit for paid dancers, the dancers the Eagle employs are covered under their nightclub permit because they are not nude. Also, nothing illegal was found in the raid, he said. “No drugs found in my bar or on any patron, and that says a lot about my bar and my patrons. I have wonderful customers,” Ramey said. “We don’t have drugs at Eagle, we don’t allow it. The only drug we have is the alcohol.” Ramey said there is no chance of the Eagle being closed down, and the club would open on schedule Friday night. “Our record is clean for the last 13 years, so there is no threat of us being closed down,” Ramey said. “We just signed a new five year lease. It’s a great lease, we aren’t going anywhere.” Steve Gower, a volunteer with the Midtown Ponce Security Alliance, said the neighborhood group does not have a problem with the Eagle. “I can assure you that the raid was not initiated by MPSA or its patrol, and we have never received any complaints, reports, or observations about criminal activity in any way associated with the Eagle,” Gower said. “Further, I have spent much time on the streets of Midtown, and look under every rock to identify problem spots. Eagle is not one of those problem spots, and we have always considered the Eagle to be a good neighbor.”
A source told me, “Patrons were made to lay on the floor, some in broken glass and were told to shut up or be arrested by the cops. They asked everyone if ‘they were in the military’ and scanned everyone’s ID. Patrons were then sent outside and told to “go away, leaving their ID’s and many personal belongings, including cell phones, back at the club.” In June 1969, the New York City Police raided a local gay bar called The Stonewall. The ensuing riots are cited as a turning point for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. The good people of Atlanta seem to be getting it this time. A fairly conservative radio station reported to me caller sympathy towards the club and its patrons, running at 15-to-1 in favor. My source says, “like Stonewall in New York, it is hoped that this will galvanize the gay community and bring straight residents to the cause as well”. It seems impossible that this kind of incident could have happened in what is perceived as a modern U.S. city. A legal Eagle I approached said: “This is exactly the type of incident that requires a federal government investigation; the city will most likely do nothing and dump this problem on the next administration, but I think the Feds are going to go in.”
As I write this, it’s 7AM Monday morning here in New York City. So I guess it must be 1969 in Atlanta.