Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: LGBT and taking a knee

If anyone thought the protest raging through the NFL was not a LGBT issue, the Atlanta Police Department recently reminded us why we should all be taking a knee. Despite the focus on the national anthem and the white supremacist in the White House, Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to draw attention to police going unpunished for killing and bullying African-Americans across the country.

Only a tiny percentage of the brutality that police inflict upon black people is physical. Most of the state-on-citizen violence is psychological, and constitutional, and generational: stripping black people of the innocence that both God and government guaranteed them, so that they are a suspect and threat at first sight, greeted with commands suited for an ill-tempered pet.

Police fabricate laws and regulations to further exploit power dynamics and deny the powerless (across skin colors) rights that the privileged take for granted. They have lies cocked and loaded, on the offhand chance they’re asked to explain their misbehavior.

Atlanta has a tradition of suspending its 12 a.m. closing time for bars during three-day weekends, and club-goers across the city were raising glasses as the Sunday party extended into Monday this past Labor Day. Yet, somehow, the corner where hundreds were gathered for Black Gay Pride was the only place in Atlanta where police officers were unaware of the city’s extended bar hour policy, even when it was printed out and shown to them.

Officers dispatched paddy wagons to a scene where they knew no crime was committed, closed the bars hosting Pride parties two hours early and swept black LGBT folks out of Midtown like they were vermin rather than US citizens with civil liberties. And they thought they would get away with it because they have before, and almost always do.

This was the second time in less than a decade APD illegally shut down Black Gay Pride, as in 2009 I wrote about how officers descended on the traditional Sunday gathering in Piedmont Park “with swiftness and might — a dozen cruisers lining the street with their lights blaring, an officer speeding down the wrong direction on Piedmont Avenue for no apparent reason, a parade of motorcycle cops arriving for back-up and another dozen cop cars circling the park ordering everyone to leave, even though the park didn’t close for another hour.”

As a reporter that evening, I asked an officer why police were clearing the park early and was told a stampede had occurred after a fight between people armed with guns. I knew that was lie because I happened to have been near the center of the stampede, which lasted about 30 seconds and was followed by folks laughing that they started running because everyone else was running, even though no one knew why.

In interviews, some folks attributed the chaos to a loose dog. APD ignored open records requests for police reports or any radio communication that led to the raid on Black Gay Pride in 2009, said it was fireworks rather than gunshots that caused the commotion, and ultimately denied officers had closed Piedmont Park before the proper hour.

And they got away with it. They would have gotten away with it this time, too, except the establishments they illegally closed on Labor Day were owned by white people, meaning there were credible witnesses who could tell the media and politicians about the injustices they had seen and endured.

Still, the only repercussion for APD routinely treating Black Gay Pride like the Stonewall Inn is the reassignment of an unnamed shift commander. APD has not released the officer’s name or personnel record, but, in what APD considers transparency, let the public know he’s gay – so, nothing to see here.

I’m inspired by TEN owner James Nelson’s refusal to let APD pretend this was an administrative oversight, rather than the deliberate targeting of Black Gay Pride. A lot of white LGBT Americans have gotten on bended knee in recent years thanks to marriage equality, but many more will need to kneel before there is an end to police brutality in all its forms.