Anger competed with relief as my dominant reaction to the news that an Atlanta judge tossed out all charges against the Eagle 8, the gay men who were baselessly arrested during an undisciplined raid conducted by the Atlanta Police Department last fall. Relief won in terms of immediacy, but the anger I felt — still feel — is far more intense.
Of course I’m thrilled for the closure this court ruling helps bring to the patrons and owners of the Eagle, who for six months have agonized over the future of their freedom, been forced to find lawyers and schedule into their lives countless hearings and court dates, depositions and postponements.
But yesterday’s ruling brought as much satisfaction as someone telling me not to worry, the sun is going to rise tomorrow. Of course it will, and of course the Eagle 8 had no business being in court yesterday. The allegations against them were so flimsy and absurd the prosecutor dismissed most of the charges during the trial, and Municipal Judge Crystal Gaines said explicitly the city did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the remaining charges against three defendants.
It’s infuriating to know that these men’s lives and emotions could be so recklessly abused by thugs with badges. The police officers who stormed into the Eagle in SWAT gear that September night based on dubious allegations from a lone, bitter ex-customer; the officers who ordered everyone to the grimy and beer-coated floor; the officers who wiped their asses with the Fourth Amendment as they illegally searched everyone in the bar, including checking all of the patrons’ pockets and running all of their IDs before allowing them to leave; and the officers who spent the better part of the two-hour raid dehumanizing the Eagle owners and patrons with every anti-gay epithet in their third-grade vocabulary — they are the ones who should be laying awake in the middle of the night, terrified about what effect that autumn Thursday night is going to have on their future.
They are the ones who should be hiring lawyers and awaiting hearings. The sheer incompetence of the Eagle raid — months of planning and surveillance, dozens of officers ambushing the place in search of illegal sex and drugs, a two-hour dragnet of the club yielding not so much as a joint and nothing more taboo than a handful of men dancing in their underwear — should be embarrassing enough to APD brass to fire everyone involved.
But the extracurricular abuse the police are accused of engaging in should guarantee termination. Patrons reported — and really, at this point, whose side of this story are you going to believe? — that many of the vice squad officers present that night found the entire raid humorous, that they were getting their rocks off ordering all of the faggots around.
I hope the officers’ laughs that night were satisfying, I hope their smugness was worth the letdown they are about to become to their families. It’s time for us to make clear to those officers that the joke is on them.
The vindication of the Eagle 8 yesterday simply confirmed what most gay people have known since September, that the very presence of police at the Eagle that night was unwarranted and offensive. Having that belief validated by Judge Gaines hardly feels like victory, hardly feels like justice.
Retribution to the Eagle 8 and the gay culture that was targeted with them can only come from the dismissal of several of the officers who were present at the raid, along with the supervisors who approved it and created a culture where officers thought celebratory gay-bashing was acceptable.
The police department and officers will assuredly try to complicate the two ongoing investigations into the raid with who-said-what and we-don’t-know-who-was-involved machinations. Regardless, heads need to roll.
Mayor Kasim Reed, Interim Police Chief George Turner and APD LGBT liaison Dani Lee Harris should be ashamed and outraged if the department’s internal affairs investigation allows such bumbling and perverted police work to go unpunished. Atlanta police are already refusing to cooperate with a separate investigation by the Citizens Review Board, which looks into “complaints lodged by members of the public regarding alleged abusive language, false arrest, false imprisonment, harassment, use of excessive force [by police officers.]”
Check. Check. Check. Check. And check.
But even with all of the facts on our side, the fight against police tyranny is never easy. Police departments operate based on power, and as the officers from the Eagle raid reminded us, the police too often think they yield all of the power. There is power in individuals contacting the mayor and pressing for his vigilance, but there is also power in leaders, something we desperately need as we try to hold APD accountable.
The newly most powerful member of the community where the raid took place, of the community that was targeted, is Alex Wan, who has been understandably stealth during his first few months on the Atlanta City Council. Wan, who is openly gay, took office in January to represent District 6, where the Eagle is located. The city faces daunting crises on many fronts, and Wan is entitled to a period of learning the intricacies of city government.
But it is my great hope that Wan will find a way to include monitoring the progress of the Eagle investigations into his work as a council member. I don’t expect him to run to a microphone anytime a gay issue arises at City Hall, but I hope he recognizes how hateful and painful the Eagle raid was to so many people in September, and that he does everything he can to ensure that his fellow gay Atlantans are not abused a second time in this process.