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Ft. Worth police raid gay bar on anniversary of Stonewall

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, June 29, 2009 12:53 EDT
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Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and Nancy Goldstein has a good piece up explaining how far gays and lesbians have come since then, and how far they have to go. She cites bans on gay marriage, higher poverty rates, lack of health care, and DADT as examples. Sadly, 40 years after the Stonewall raid that led to riots from gays who were completely fed up with the way the cops targeted gay clubs for harassment, gays and lesbians still have to face police raids of bars based on flimsy excuses that result in police brutality.

Is it a coincidence that the Ft. Worth police chose the anniversary of the Stonewall riots to raid a gay bar called the Rainbow Lounge and arrest 7 people (hospitalizing one, who may have bleeding on the brain, according to the Dallas Voice) for public intoxication? Did you even know it’s a crime to be drunk in a bar? Probably not, because while it’s technically a crime to be intoxicated in public, it’s a minor one and usually you have to be a danger to yourself or other people. It’s in place mainly to arrest drunks getting into fights or people that are drunk and about to get behind the wheel. Or, it seems, if the cops want to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots to intimidate gays and lesbians who thought that winning Lawrence v. Texas was the final step in making it legal to be gay in Texas. The blog at the Dallas Voice is bearing witness to what happened at the Rainbow Lounge Saturday night, and helping organize protests.

Some eyewitness accounts:

When it first started she went up to a cop and said thank you for coming out to keep us safe. This is a rough neighborhood. He said that’s not why we are here. She asked why they were there and he said a disgruntled employee had said that the bar was overserving people. She told him she had been drinking but that she had a designated driver. He told her that she was fine. She said they only arrested men and seemed to be targeting effeminate men.

This “disgruntled employee” thing keeps coming up, but the Rainbow Lounge has been open for a week, which doesn’t seem like enough time to develop disgruntled employees, even in the food and alcohol industry.

My name is Kayla Lane. I am a Ph.D. student at UC-Santa Cruz, staying with my sister, Kelly Lane, for the summer. We and a few of our friends went to the new Rainbow Lounge last night to dance and have some fun. I was in the VIP section when police officers started coming up there. The first arrest (that we saw) was right in front of me in that section.

They asked the guy if he had been drinking, and he said some, and they snidely replied, “Well, we’ll see how much!” and plastic handcuffed him as they read him his rights The guy was doing NOTHING wrong. It was utterly repugnant.

Once I saw this happen, I decided to try and speak with one of the police officers themselves, to go straight to the source and get their side. My sister Kelly and I simply started asking what they were doing here, stating how suspicious it seemed on this date and in this specific club, etc. This was a “State Policeman,” whose name I forgot, who tried to explain their actions by referring to “anonymous tips” and “disgruntled ex-bartenders.” We pointed out the place was open a week, so the disgruntled ex-bartender source seemed a bit unlikely! He wouldn’t really answer my questions. although he did try to grab my hand and flirt with me (which was completely uninvited).

More here.

There were protests yesterday, and in response, the Ft. Worth police and TABC admitted that they rolled into Rainbow Lounge to find and arrest people for being drunk. I’m not saying that it’s never been a practice in Texas to roll into bars and arrest people for being drunk, but I’ve never seen or heard of it. Cops linger outside of bar parking lots to grab drunk drivers, which is a much more reasonable thing to do, but if people are taking care of their own transportation and not causing any trouble, which is the case with the people arrested in this raid, then we have a problem. Again, how come, if they’re going to start doing this, show up at a brand new gay bar on the anniversary of Stonewall?

In case there’s any doubt left in your mind,* the Ft. Worth police statement has the telltale marker of bullshit on it.

In a statement, the Fort Worth Police Department said agents inspected three bars early Sunday and police arrested patrons at the Rainbow Lounge because they were drunk and tried to grope officers.

The eyewitnesses say differently, and say that patrons were arrested in the bathroom, standing at the bar drinking, and one just generally hanging out. But I’m sure this statement is crafted mostly to appeal to the homophobic population of Ft. Worth, who wants to believe that gay men descend in masses when cops enter bars and start groping them drunkenly. Because there’s something about a police uniform that says, “Fuck with me,” right?

Here’s what the cops were wearing:

I’d be more inclined to believe that drunken groping was the reason for the public intoxication arrests if the police were in plain clothes. Drunken groping in bars happens, though I doubt that straight men who grope women have anything to fear from the cops. As it stands, this, coupled with the eyewitness accounts, sounds like an excuse. The cops went in trolling for gay men to arrest and for an opportunity to disrupt a new gay bar, and drive away future patrons to put it out of business. And the Stonewall riot thing is unlikely to be a coincidence—the cops, after all, can’t be oblivious to what Pride celebrations are all about, since police are sent to public Pride events just like they are any other, and they’d probably find out that the events are honoring a riot bucking police authority through those means if nothing else. That has to burn their asses, so no wonder they’re looking for revenge.

The Ft. Worth police say they’re investigating the matter. I’m not holding my breath for any kind of discipline, even though it seems they slammed one man to the ground so hard he went to ICU with head injuries.

*And I was disheartened to find out recently, when Samhita wrote a blog post at Feministing talking about how the recent shooting in Oakland that left four cops dead would likely result in the cops trolling around Oakland looking for payback, how many supposed liberals will loudly and repeatedly defend the police against the charge that they abuse their power to intimidate and harass minority populations. If you’ve had the lifelong privilege of being the sort of person the cops ignore, then I suppose they could seem friendly and innocuous, but as this case shows, that is not the case.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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