On a cool September night last year, 21 armed men dressed in paramilitary fatigues burst through the door of the Atlanta Eagle on Ponce de Leon Avenue. Sixty-two customers of the gay bar were ordered to lie face-down on the grimy wood and clay-tiled floor for up to two hours while members of the city's vice squad and Red Dog unit spouted anti-gay slurs and rifled their pockets to check IDs in what they later billed as a search for illegal drugs and sexual activity.
Last week, the Atlanta Citizen Review Board tendered a sliver of justice to the Eagle, its patrons, and Atlanta's gay community with a finding that the cops had falsely imprisoned the Eagle's patrons in their warrantless search. None of the patrons, by the way, was charged with any crimes; only minor charges for permit violations were filed against staffers. The only apparent "crime" any Eagle patron committed was that of being gay.
The CRB lamented that it is limited to recommending no more than a three-day suspension for officers involved in a notorious violation of civil liberties that drew negative publicity nationwide. It asked its staff to investigate further whether high-level supervisors had approved an operation that consumed the 21 officers plus backup support and three police wagons for several hours that night.
Now the community must turn its attention to Mayor Kasim Reed and Police Chief George Turner, who has been remarkable for his apparent lack of support for the board's charter to investigate police misconduct. The CRB's investigation into the involvement of higher-ups will not succeed without the support of the mayor and his police chief.
The evidence thus far suggests that support isn't likely. Former Police Chief Richard Pennington, who headed the APD at the time of the raid, and Turner, who replaced Pennington as interim chief and held the post during the bulk of the investigation, declined to order officers to testify before the CRB; had the order been issued, the police union's attorney said the officers would have complied. Such testimony cannot be used against officers in criminal cases if any were to be filed. And the CRB complained in March that Reed would not returns its calls or e-mail messages. Reed, who condemned the raid during his mayoral campaign, has cited civil law suits against the city to explain his public silence since taking office. That is a lame excuse when the issue is an outrageous violation of civil rights so obviously colored, according to testimony before the CRB, by homophobia.
Thus far the CRB has been patient with the mayor and police chief. It even backed away from a proposal by one of its own members to sue the police department for violating the law that mandates it cooperate with the board.
"This is still a very young administration," board vice chairman Seth Kirschenbaum said in May, by way of explaining the CRB's patience. "Mayor Reed has only been in office since January. He came into office with a lot of big problems to solve and the workings of our board were not, understandably, at the top of his list."
We, however, no longer have patience with an administration that fails to take a strong stand against police misconduct — and for the civil liberties of all of its citizens, no matter their sexual orientation. Reed and Turner must immediately make clear that all members of the police department will cooperate with the CRB in its investigation, wherever it may lead. And those who don't must be fired.