NYPD ’Raided’ the Eagle After Gay-Marriage Success
The New York City Police, along with agents from several other city and state authorities, conducted a surprise inspection on a Manhattan gay bar on the very night of the historic vote in Albany that brought marriage equality to the state of New York.
Authorities said that the inspection was carried out respectfully and with minimal friction, and insisted that the action had been scheduled weeks in advance and was not in any way related to the marriage vote or to Pride weekend, the New York Times reported in a June 25 article.
But others accused the authorities of heavy-handed tactics, saying that they were blinded by flashlights aimed at their eyes and forced to empty their pockets for no reason.
Manhattan’s borough president, Scott M. Stringer, called the actions a "raid," and vowed to press for "a formal investigation concerning the circumstances" surrounding the action, the Times reported.
Stringer went on to say that the inspection "was ill-conceived and ill-timed given the circumstances surrounding the marriage equality celebration, on Pride week."
Eagle patrons who were there at the time say that the authorities entered the establishment at almost the same time as word of the vote in Albany was revealed. Patrons were ecstatic -- and then, some claim, they were subjected to heavy-handed police tactics.
"I was on the roof deck, smoking a cigar and having drinks with friends, and all of a sudden, the police showed up and started shining flashlights in everyone’s face and offending everyone," Thomas J. Shevlin told the Times. Shevlin serves as the treasurer of politically active gay organization the Stonewall Democratic Club, the article noted.
"Basically, it is offensive," Shevlin reiterated. "It is real serious harassment that they come out on Pride weekend."
A police spokesperson said that the operation was entirely routine. Moreover, the way establishments are targeted for inspection stems from "chronic complaints" from local residents about nuisances such as fighting or noise. The inspections are carried under the city’s MARCH program, an acronym for "Multi-Agency Response to Community Hot spots."
The spokesperson also noted that nearly all of the city’s police precincts are involved in such inspections and that "a couple thousand clubs" are subjected to such actions every year.
The inspection led to citations for a variety of issues, ranging from noise to unlicensed security to liquor violations, the article said.
Eagle owner Robert Berk said that the police were "aggressive but polite," and acknowledged that the citations were going to cost his business. Berk also said that he lost money due to the inspection "because they made patrons wait outside in a line down the block."
Berk added that the police "were just doing their job," but also said that carrying out such an inspection at the outset of Pride weekend was a matter of "bad" timing.
"I find interesting the timing," one patron, Christopher J. Borras, told the newspaper. "I would just like to know from the police: ’Why did they do that?’ To me, it is a blatant sign of intimidation and harassment. I mean, 42 years after the Stonewall riots, and we still have to live in fear of the police disturbing our quiet enjoyment of life? I just don’t understand. We are very peaceful."
Borras got into the establishment around 11:45, the article said, just before Gov. Cuomo signed the marriage equality bill. The article also said that the officers and other agents, 20 in all, began to appear at the club around 10:30.
Borras was not alone in criticizing the timing of the inspection.
"There needs to be some sensitivity to the importance of gay marriage being legalized in New York State, which means this vote for marriage is going to have national reverberations," said City Councilmember Daniel P. Dromm. "Not a good time for cops to be going into a gay bar for no urgent reason."
"In typical New York City Police Department fashion, the N.Y.P.D. demonstrated its disrespect for the gay community by raiding the Eagle mere moments after the passage of most important piece of gay rights legislation in history," declared longtime GLBT equality advocate Allen Roskoff.
The police spokesperson insisted that the marriage bill being signed just then was mere coincidence, stating that law enforcement authorities "don’t have a crystal ball that tells them when Albany is going to take up a piece of legislation."
"We are treating everyone the same here," the spokesperson insisted. "It has nothing to do with the sexual preference of the patrons; it has to do with complaints. It is blind to who the club is and it was planned weeks before."
Pride commemorates the Stonewall riots, in which patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich rose up in protest after a police raid on June 28, 1969. Such raids on gay establishments were commonplace at the time, and patrons placed under arrest could find their lives ruined.
The gay community remains sensitive to what they see as police intrusion on their lives and the establishments that cater to GLBT patrons. Poor timing in such raids and inspections -- whether by accident or design -- can infuriate gay patrons.
On June 28, 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, police officers and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas. Authorities came in for severe criticism for the timing of the raid, as well as for the way fallout from the incident was handled, especially in light of subsequent investigations that showed the authorities had been in violation of a number of policies in the way the raid was carried out.
On Sept. 10, 2009, police in Atlanta, Georgia, descended on a gay bar, the Atlanta Eagle, and allegedly forced patrons to lie on the floor. Police also allegedly frisked patrons and ran background checks on them. The bar had hosted an "underwear night" on the evening of the raid. City officials said they were acting on a tip about sex acts taking place at the establishment. No evidence of drugs or other illicit activity was uncovered during the raid.
A criminal case against eight Eagle employees fell apart the following March, with some of the accused being acquitted and the charges against others being dismissed. That development followed months of stonewalling by police, who refused to cooperate with the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, which had launched an investigation into the raid.
A suit brought on behalf of 19 of the 62 patrons reportedly detained that night alleged that police not only had no search warrant, but they also used anti-gay insults on some of the patrons in the course of detaining, searching, and running background checks on them. The city eventually paid out $1 million.