Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It's 1969, all over again

Under siege by Atlanta's gay and lesbian community, as well as by supporters of social tolerance, the Georgia city's police department is scrambling to justify a violent raid on a popular bar that caters to a leather clientele. In a city that is not known for having solved all its problems with crimes against people and property, Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington argues that the raid on the Atlanta Eagle was justified because ... well ... there was consensual sex among adults going on in the establishment.

Seriously. That's the police excuse for a raid by more than 20 officers, during which, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "62 patrons were ordered facedown on the bar’s floor, some for more than an hour. The customers were searched illegally and some were taunted with anti-gay slurs by some of the officers..."

Co-owner Robert Kelley told CBS, "The only thing they'd tell us is we need to sit down and shut the (expletive) up, and if we asked any questions, they'd bash us with a bar stool."

All this because of allegations of open sex on the premises, as well as the presence of illicit intoxicants.

Even when it comes to pursuing a full-court press against victimless "crimes," the police walked away empty-handed. Eight bar employees were ultimately arrested -- for permit infractions.

But even if there was sex on the premises, the police have raised no allegations that the conduct was anything but consensual, in an enclosed and seemingly safe environment. As for drugs ... I've written often enough about the pointlessness of trying to dictate to people just what intoxicants they may and may not use, as well as the individual rights violations inherent in any attempt to enforce such rules. The report of sixty-two people verbally abused while handcuffed face-down on the ground -- without the police even making arrests for violating those laws against sex and drugs -- amply illustrates that point.

Honestly, why should the police care how people are enjoying themselves in a place and with companions of their own choosing? And why should the police expend such resources on this raid in a city where the murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate edged up, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 20.9 per 100,000 people in 2005, to 22.6 in 2006 to 25.9 in 2007? Admittedly, that's a vast improvement over the rate of a decade ago -- so are all crime statistics in Atlanta -- but it would seem the police still have plenty of real offenses against people and property to occupy their attention.

In the end, it's none of the government's business what consenting adults do with each other, on their own property or in an establishment owned by somebody who welcomes them.

Ironically, it was a raid much like this one, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969, that launched the modern gay rights movement. At the Stonewall Inn, gays and lesbians fought back, defeated the police and claimed a little respect for the right to be left alone.

With the Atlanta Eagle raid following so closely on the police assault on the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas, maybe it's time for another Stonewall-style push-back.

Or maybe the authorities could just learn, finally, to mind their own business and tend to more important concerns.

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