by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
As LGBT communities around the world celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion with Pride Parades, parties, and festivals, Fort Worth police and agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission marked the occasion by raiding the Rainbow Lounge, a Gay bar in south Fort Worth, Texas.
One bar patron, Chad Gibson, remains hospitalized with a brain injury after reportedly being knocked unconscious by police during his arrest. Gibson and six others were arrested for "public intoxication."
Police allege that they arrived at the Rainbow Lounge for a routine and pre-scheduled bar inspection, intended to curb public intoxication and drunk driving. According to the police account, when they arrived at the bar they were subjected to sexual harassment, groped, and eventually assaulted by patrons resisting arrest.
Witnesses tell a much different story. According to people at the scene, police showed up intending to make arrests, with paddy wagons and fists full of plastic zip-cuffs.
"They were hyped up. They were loaded for bear," Todd Camp told the Dallas Morning News. "They were just randomly grabbing people, telling them they were drunk." Camp was at the bar with friends, celebrating his birthday. "They were shoving patrons," Camp continued, "asking, 'How much have you had to drink?'"
Another witness, who identified herself to a Dallas Voice reporter as Alison, stated that "they only arrested men and seemed to be targeting effeminate men." The Dallas Voice is a weekly newspaper for the Dallas-Fort Worth LGBT community.
A Fort Worth police spokesman told the mainstream daily Dallas Morning News that Gibson was injured outside the bar, when he fell and struck his head because he was too drunk to stand.
"He was the one that groped the TABC agent," Sgt. Pedro Criado told local reporters. "He was injured by falling and hitting his head." As his source for this statement, Criado cited the report filed by officers on scene.
However, cellphone photos shot by bar patrons and posted to blogs show a person thought to be Gibson being held facedown by officers inside the club, then show a dent in the wall where his head was reportedly banged by police.
"He was taken down hard," Camp told reporters, saying "four or five" officers wrestled Gibson to the floor inside the club.
Bar owner J R Schrock emphatically denied police allegations that Gibson - or any bar patrons - groped police officers. "That is a lie, and I'm appalled by it," he told the Dallas Voice. "We're Gay, but we're not dumb."
Within hours of the raid, some 200 people gathered in protest, first in front of the bar, and later on the steps of the Tarrant County Courthouse. Joel Burns, Fort Worth's first and only openly Gay City Council member, was in Houston for Pride weekend, but rushed back to Fort Worth in time for the rally.
"We want all citizens of Texas and Fort Worth to know and be assured that the laws and ordinances of our great state and city will be applied fairly, equally and without malice or selective enforcement," Burns said at the rally, reading from a prepared statement.
"We consider this to be part of 'The Fort Worth Way' here. As elected representatives of the city of Fort Worth, we are calling for an immediate and thorough investigation of the actions of the city of Fort Worth police and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in relation to the incident at the Rainbow Lounge earlier this morning," Burns said.
Burns said he had talked with Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead who had promised an internal affairs investigation. Burns also said that Mayor Pro Tem Kathleen Hicks, who represents the district where the Rainbow Lounge is located, and City Manager Dale A. Fisseler were also monitoring the situation.
Fort Worth Police Chief Halstead spoke with Dallas Voice reporters on Monday. Halstead denied that Gay people were unfairly targeted by his officers and asked the LGBT community to "take a deep breath."
Halstead also stated that the coincidence with the Stonewall anniversary was inadvertent. "There was never, ever anyone employed with the Fort Worth Police Department who would want to specifically target a location because of the date," he said. "That simply did not occur."
Fort Worth police spokesperson Sgt Criado spoke with SGN by phone on Tuesday. "It's very unfortunate," Criado said. "It's upsetting that people have this image of us as being unprofessional. I'm Hispanic myself, so I always want police to treat people with respect."
Criado said he stood by the media release his department issued on Sunday, even though it is contradicted by many witnesses, but he acknowledged it may not be complete. "We were pressured to get something out," he told SGN. "Normally we'd want to wait to get all the facts, but we had to put something out right away."
Criado declined to comment on what is "obviously an open investigation," but he promised that "if any misconduct was witnessed, the chief will deal with it."
City Council member Burns was out of town on a previously planned trip, and was not able to comment.
Reactions in the broader Dallas-Fort Worth community were skeptical of the police version of events.
An editorial in Tuesday's Dallas Morning News said, in part, "The Fort Worth Police Department still has some explaining to do about what happened early Sunday at a southside Gay bar called the Rainbow Lounge & or some clarifying or some illuminating or some supplementary detailing - anything to mitigate the apparently self-administered public-relations shot-to-the-foot it suffered after what it keeps calling a routine 'bar check.'"
Michael Piazza, dean of the Dallas Cathedral of Hope, which claims to be the world's largest LGBT congregation, issued a statement which said, in part, "After more than a generation of progress, this action shows that there is still much work to be done to ensure that all Americans enjoy 'equal protection under the law.' It is tragic that Lesbian and Gay taxpayers are still abused by the very people who are paid by our taxes."
The Stonewall rebellion, which launched the modern LGBT liberation movement, occurred 40 years to the day - almost to the minute - before the raid on the Rainbow Lounge. In the early morning of June 28, 1969, NYPD officers raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, but were forced to beat a hasty retreat after bar patrons and neighborhood people hurled debris at them in a 45-minute onslaught. Police did not regain control of the neighborhood for several days afterwards.
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