Was Atlanta’s Leather Bar ‘Drug’ Raid Just Another Stonewall?


Because local law enforcement does not stay up to date with the happenings of their peers in other towns and counties, Atlanta police just made the same mistake as Ft. Worth: they raided a gay bar. Just because?

Last night’s raid on Atlanta’s leather bar The Eagle does not appear to be apples-to-apples with Ft. Worth’s Rainbow Lounge showdown, if only because nobody’s brain ended up bleeding. But whenever a gay bar is targeted — and the police are less than forthcoming about reasons why — it immediately smacks of prejudice.

And that’s what the eight arrested Eagle employees might be feeling right about now.

Officially, Atlanta police received a tip that there were “illegal activities” happening at the bar. Except the staff they arrested (i.e. those wearing only underwear) were charged with illegal dancing (no cabaret license?), which is a sad, trumped up charge that should result in little more than a fine. No drugs were found. And allegations of “over-serving” (see: Rainbow Lounge) haven’t been made.

So why storm the bar, lock it down, force everyone on the floor, and tie hands behind backs? Good question. The Eagle’s owner Richard Ramey, who says his bar has a 13-year clean record, doesn’t know. Neither does the Atlanta Police Department’s LGBT liaison officer Danni Lynn Harris.

But until the cops start talking, we’re left with this:

The present writer for Atlanta Progressive News–who had come to the bar to dance–witnessed as several bar staff and male dancers were arrested between approximately 12:30am and 1am and taken away in paddy wagons, but it is not immediately clear why.

[…] About ten police cars and about 15 cops raided the bar, allegedly looking for drugs. However, the police were said to have ordered all patrons to get on the ground–including patrons who were just dancing or standing at the bar–and numerous patrons said people were handcuffed indiscriminately.

Bar patrons were furious at the aggressive and indiscriminate treatment and called the incident “harassment.”

[…] This writer [Matthew Cardinale] arrived minutes after the raid had begun. A line of cop cars blocked the parking lot so that no one in the parking lot could leave.

According to numerous patrons, many patrons were handcuffed and many, if not all, were searched for drugs and were asked to show identification.

According to one patron, APD handcuffed all Eagle staff members and dancers, patrons in a leather shop, and anyone who was wearing only underwear; Thursday is advertised as underwear night.

And as witness Allan Vives, who was in the bar, reported: “My roommate and I were there for the police raid at the Eagle on September 10, 2009. We had arrived about 20 minutes before the raid took place. Everyone was ordered to get on their stomachs and face down during this ordeal. As far as I could tell everyone was searched at least once, most of us twice. Most, but not all, of the officers were incredibly derogatory and insulting whether they found evidence of drugs or not. When asking why, we were met with derisive remarks and no explanation. I am furious at how we were treated and can’t believe that this has happened in this day and age. The officers present were incredibly rude to anyone who dared to ask what was happening and several were openly hostile towards the gay patrons. Of the officers present, there was one female who was running searches on the IDs of those whose licenses were collected. She was not only rude but seemed to be enjoying the event. At one point, she stopped what she was doing and walked over to the television and asked her colleagues what the score to the game playing on the television was… this point there were still innocent patrons laying face down on the floor. When pressed for answers none were given, only further threats that something worse would happen if we didn’t capitulate to the demands of these ‘law enforcement’ officers. I’m disgusted at what I went through. I’m disgusted at what I witnessed. I’m embarrassed for this city. I hope this is the beginning of a discussion that ends in the dismissal of several Atlanta police officers and whoever initiated this act. It is UNBELIEVABLE that the patrons of one of Atlanta’s gay bars would be subjected to this kind of treatment given the high rate of serious crimes that are being perpetrated on a daily basis? Is this really the greatest concern of the Atlanta police department…especially in a city where the daily news rarely goes without some report of violent crimes against others? This is just unbelievable, a serious embarrassment. I can’t express how angry I am.”

This will get worse before it gets better. Local activists are planning a rally tomorrow to protest the raid. The police should start preparing their internal investigations now, because really, that’s where this is headed.