On the night of September 10, 2009, at approximately 11:00 pm, undercover officers signaled for a full raid to begin at a popular Midtown Gay Bar called the Atlanta Eagle. Within seconds, a unit of SWAT-type Atlanta police officers called “RED DOG” kicked down the doors and forced dozens of innocent bar patrons to lay face down on the floor which was covered in beer, dirt, and broken glass while their pockets were emptied and IDs were confiscated for their names to be entered into a police system as they were detained anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 1/2 hours - and this was all done without a warrant. Although they were there to investigate reports of lewd conduct and unlicensed adult entertainment, it was reported that the police refused to explain to the detained group, which mostly composed of elderly men, what they had done and when asked they were told to “shut the f**k up,” kicked, and some were even threatened to be hit in the head with a barstool if they continued to ask questions as officers made racist and anti-gay slurs, such as “you people make me sick” and “I hate fags” while laughing and jokingly stating, “this is fun; we should do this every week.”
“To me, gays were being targeted that night for no particular reason.”
- Brian Hughes, Raid Victim
In the early hours of June 12, 2016, around 2:02 am, a 29-year old G4S Secure Solutions Security guard opened fire in a terrorist attack/hate crime inside Pulse, a popular Orlando gay nightclub. The American-born assassin, Omar Mateen, entered the club filled with individuals mostly of Hispanic origin due to the club’s weekly Latin night event armed with a SIG Saucer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9 mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. Autopsies conducted by the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Officer reported many of the victims were shot multiple times in the front or the side from a short distance and more than a third were shot in the head. While holding several people hostage in a bathroom at the back of the building and stating numerous threats about explosives, Mateen expressed to police that he was carrying out the shooting on behalf of ISIS and it was triggered by a U.S.-led bombing strike in Iraq that killed Abu Waheeb, an ISIS military commander on May 6. Many of the roughly 320 people inside - both victims and survivors - desperately reached out to family and friends, called 911, and some even hid under already lifeless bodies in hopes that they could stay alive. The horrific event ended after Mateen exchanged fire with police officers and was reported “down” at 5:17 am.
“If you’re alive, raise your hand.”
- Rescuing Officer on Scene
I’m sure you’re probably wondering what kind of comparison could be made between the two events and you probably even think I’m silly for even trying to do so. However, despite both incidents occurring on opposite ends of the spectrum as one involves the illegal search and seizure of police officers and the other involves the act of protection by police officers, both ultimately deal with interactions between the LGBTQ+ community and the police force. I urge you to sit back and ask yourself what is the overall difference in how police officers have interacted with the community over time and is there a thin line between personal bias/preference and having a duty to serve and protect everyone - regardless of ethnic background, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc. - while in a uniform? Which would you choose as a personal target for being who you are - a bullet or to be completely ridiculed and made a mockery of? Has there been much change from 2009 to now? Are officers now more willing to commit to honoring the badge than falling victim to their own personal mindset?
After speaking with some members of the LGBTQ+ community in Atlanta, there seems to be an overall positive shift in their view of improvement in how police officers deal with professionalism over personal views, but what should not be overlooked is the progress that must continue regarding police-LGBTQ+ interactions no matter the severity of the situation. Our police officers must not only be willing to protect our community from witnessing another traumatic Pulse encounter or even danger on a much smaller scale, but their departments must also be willing to train them in everyday encounters to increase the level of trust between them and our communities. I took a moment to engage in and attend a Citizens Police Academy held by the Atlanta Police Department where not only was I made aware that how its officers behaved during the Eagle Raid still heavily haunts them, but they have amped up their training as they are the only police department in the state of Georgia to require 900+ hours of required training which includes a desired number of hours dedicated to LGBTQ+ Crisis Intervention training compared to the Georgia state requirement of 408 hours that does not require any training specifically designed for LGBTQ+ interaction. I was also able to participate in a portion of their LGBTQ+ training with one of their more recent academy classes on interactions within the community, and I’m sure you will be pleased to know that they not only learn how to properly engage in searching an individual of the LGBTQ+ community and properly address LGBTQ+ situations through real-life active scenarios, but they devote a lot of their attention to proper pronoun usage and respectability.
There have been too many lives of those within the LGBTQ+ community not only endangered but taken. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub tragedy (June 12th), amid Pride month, we must take the time to celebrate the lives of each of the victims with love, pride, respect, and continuous effort to become better versions of ourselves daily - no matter what side of the spectrum we are on.
May each of you continue to rest in power and in peace! -xoxo