The Atlanta Police Department have a tough job to do. That needs to be said first and foremost. And it’s an encouraging sign for the LGBT community when a lesbian is appointed to the department’s highest post, as happened with Chief Erika Shields last December. It’s also encouraging when LGBT folks fill other high-ranking positions on the force, as Major Darin Schierbaum does, or when Mayor Kasim Reed appoints a transgender woman to the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, as happened for Tracee McDaniel last August.
That’s why it’s so frustrating to hear of yet another incident involving the Atlanta police that negatively impacted the LGBT community, and especially for that incident to happen during Black Gay Pride.
To recap, Atlanta police shut down Blake’s on the Park, G’s Midtown, 10th & Piedmont and TEN Atlanta two hours before closing time in the early morning hours of Sept. 4, despite one bar owner reportedly showing the morning watch commander on the scene a copy of the ordinance allowing them to stay open till 2:30 a.m. due to it being Labor Day weekend. The department claimed it was a miscommunication, apologized and Chief Shields reassigned that watch commander (who is also gay) to another zone.
It would be one thing if that were the only troubling incident to occur between APD and the LGBT community since the notorious, unconstitutional raid on the Atlanta Eagle in November 2009, which later led to the city settling with the bar’s patrons for $1 million.
But it’s not.
In May 2015, a federal judge found the city in contempt of court and imposed numerous sanctions for the city’s failure to properly train police officers as mandated in that settlement. And those infractions wouldn’t have come to light if it weren’t for attorneys for the Eagle bringing it to the court’s attention.
Then, just three months later, it was revealed that Atlanta police training materials contained anti-LGBT lessons, including teaching recruits that consensual sodomy is “unnatural,” illegal and comparable to bestiality, chicken hawks are pedophiles and including outdated terms for transgender people. The department removed the offensive materials and apologized.
And now we have the early bar closures, during the second biggest weekend for the city’s LGBT community, and during the largest Black Gay Pride celebration in the country – which means that scene was likely the final impression that LGBT visitors to the city got before they traveled home later that Monday.
I won’t claim to have the answers to this issue, as there is enough going on right now against LGBT folks and other marginalized groups in this country in addition to having to worry about the intentions of our local police force. But after listening to the community’s reaction to yet another incident that required an apology, I just know it has to stop. Confidence in our various institutions is perilously low right now, and the last thing we need is something else to happen to add another institution to that list, or chip away even further at it.