Tag Archives: police violence

Gay History: The Raid On The Rainbow Lounge – Fort Worth, Texas, 28th June 2009

The Rainbow Lounge raid occurred in the early morning hours of June 28, 2009, at the Rainbow Lounge, a newly opened gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas.[1] The raid was carried out by members of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and the Fort Worth Police Department.[2] Several customers were arrested for public intoxication and one customer, Chad Gibson, received a severe head and brain injury while in custody. The police also claimed the customers made sexual advances and contact with them. Other customers were detained and later released without arrest.[3]

In response to this incident, several of the witnesses in the bar that evening, including Todd Camp, the artistic director of the local gay and lesbian film festival, began a grassroots awareness campaign with the launch of the informational Facebook page “Rainbow Lounge Raid.” Over the next several weeks, the page’s membership grew to nearly 15,000. Several local organizers planned a protest on the steps of the Tarrant County Courthouse the next afternoon. The Dallas-based LGBT rights group Queer Liberaction organized a candlelight vigil for the victim, a Milk Box event, and a later more formal protest.

It has been of particular interest to the media that the raid took place on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a notable raid of a gay bar which prompted the modern gay rights movement.[2] The address of the club, 651 South Jennings Avenue, is a classic location of gay bars in Fort Worth.[4]

Todd Camp, Journalist & Patron of the Rainbow Lounge the Night it Was Raided on June

At the City of Fort Worth’s first council meeting since the Rainbow Lounge Raid, and after an attendee of the meeting called out for an apology, the Mayor apologized for the events at the Rainbow Lounge.[5] The next day after the apology was reported nationally and internationally, the Mayor said the apology was taken out of context and that he was referring to the injury not the actual raid.[6]

The Rainbow Lounge in Ft. Worth, Texas

As a result of the raid, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission fired 3 individuals and disciplined two others.[7][8] The agency also completed some previously scheduled changes including increased cultural diversity training.[9]

A separate “Use of Force” investigation determined that two charges: (a) “that the Rainbow Lounge was targeted for being a gay bar”, and (b) that TABC officers “used force beyond what was necessary and reasonable”, were both unfounded.[10] However, TABC Administrator Alan Steen announced that “TABC’s five regional Educational Liaisons are being re-named Community Liaisons, and will be tasked with reaching out to diverse community groups including GLBT organizations as well as associations representing racial, ethnic and religious minorities.”[10] Steen also appointed TABC’s Director of Communications and Governmental Relations as the agency’s liaison to the GLBT community “in an effort to improve communication around the state.”[10]

Raid at a Club in Texas Leaves a Man in the Hospital and Gay Advocates Angry

The Rev. Carol West and Brian Nesbitt at a candlelight vigil on Wednesday outside the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth. Credit John F. Rhodes/Dallas Morning News

FORT WORTH — The grand opening sign still hangs above the door of the Rainbow Lounge, but the recently opened dance club has already become a rallying point for gay men and lesbians here, after a raid by law enforcement last week left one man hospitalized with a head injury and prompted complaints of brutality.

The raid in the early hours of June 28 by Fort Worth police officers and agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has set off a political uproar and galvanized gay advocates in Fort Worth, who have traditionally been less vocal than in Dallas and Houston. After years of keeping a low profile, gay men and lesbians in Fort Worth say they are furious, and their complaints have spread on the Internet, attracting support from gay rights groups across the country.

They have organized protests and formed a new organization, Fairness Fort Worth, to keep track of various investigations into the incident that have begun or been requested. They also have taken up collections and organized a benefit concert to help the injured.

“It has brought this community together so tight — it’s almost impermeable now,” said Randy Norman, the manager of the lounge.

The incident has drawn even more attention because of its timing; it came on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riot in New York City, widely considered to be the start of the gay rights movement.

Law enforcement officials have begun an investigation into the accusations of brutality, and internal affairs officers from the state liquor authority were interviewing employees of the club on Friday afternoon, sifting through conflicting accounts of what had happened.

Fort Worth’s police chief, Jeffrey W. Halstead, initially stood behind his officers, saying Monday that patrons had provoked the scuffle by making sexual gestures toward officers.

But as the week went on, Chief Halstead backed away from that stance. By Thursday, he had ordered an inquiry, suspended operations with the state beverage commission and promised to give police officers “multicultural training.” He declined a request for an interview.

“Make no mistake, if our officers acted in error, this department will address the problem,” Chief Halstead said in an open letter to the community posted on the city’s Web site on Thursday. Chief Halstead said the state agents, not his officers, had been the ones who had taken the hospitalized man into custody.

Alan Steen, the administrator of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, has put two officers involved in the raid on desk duty and said an inquiry would be conducted.

Several witnesses said six police officers and two liquor control agents used excessive force as they arrested people during the raid.

Chad Gibson, a 26-year-old computer technician from Euless, about 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth, suffered a concussion, a hairline fracture to his skull and internal bleeding after officers slammed his head into a wall and then into the floor, witnesses and family members said. Mr. Gibson was still hospitalized on Friday evening as doctors monitored a blood clot in his brain, his mother, Karen Carter, said.

Another patron suffered broken ribs, and a third had a broken thumb, said Todd Camp, the founder and artistic director of Q. Cinema, a gay film festival in Fort Worth. Mr. Camp, a former journalist, said he was celebrating his 43rd birthday in the bar when the police arrived at 1:05 a.m.

The officers entered the bar without announcing themselves, witnesses said. Earlier in the night, they had visited two other bars looking for violations of alcohol compliance laws. Those bars do not cater to gay patrons, and the officers had made nine arrests at those establishments on public intoxication charges, officials said.

“They were hyped up,” Mr. Camp said of the officers in the Rainbow Lounge raid. “They came in charged and ready for a fight. They were just telling people they were drunk or asking them if they were drunk, and, if they mouthed off, arresting them.”

More than 20 people were taken out of the bar for questioning, handcuffed with plastic ties and, in some cases, were forced to lie face down in the parking lot, witnesses said. Five were eventually booked on charges of public drunkenness, the police said.

In a statement released Sunday, the police said that two of those arrested had made “sexually explicit movements” toward the officers. Another was arrested after he grabbed a state agent’s groin, the statement said.

Several witnesses dispute that account, saying they had not seen anyone harass the officers. So many questions have been raised about the police account that on Friday afternoon, Mayor Mike Moncrief asked the United States attorney for the Northern District of Texas, James T. Jacks, to review the Police Department’s investigation.

Tom Anable, a 55-year-old accountant who said he was in the bar during the raid, said that for more than a half-hour the officers entered the bar repeatedly in groups of three and escorted people out. Then around 1:40 a.m., he said, the officers started to get rougher, throwing one young man down hard on a pool table.

Minutes later, one of the state agents approached Mr. Gibson, who was standing on steps to a lounge at the back of the bar with a bottle of water in his hands, and tapped him on the shoulder, Mr. Anable said. Mr. Gibson turned and said, “Why?”

Then the officer, who has not been identified, twisted Mr. Gibson’s right arm behind his back, grabbed his neck, swung him off the steps and slammed his head into the wall of a hallway leading to the restrooms, Mr. Anable said. The agent then forced Mr. Gibson to the floor, Mr. Anable said.

“Gibson didn’t touch the officer,” Mr. Anable said. “He didn’t grope him.”

Two police officers and a second state agent arrived and helped subdue Mr. Gibson, kneeling on his back. A lounge employee, Lindsey Thompson, 23, said she saw an officer slam Mr. Gibson’s head into the floor while he was prone with his hands cuffed behind him.

The raid prompted swift action. Hours later, more than 100 people were protesting on the steps of the Tarrant County Courthouse. As the week went on, calls for an independent investigation grew, with a state senator, a group of local business leaders and two churches joining the chorus.

Yet some gay residents said the outcry had been loud in part because what happened at Rainbow Lounge was uncharacteristic for this city of 750,000 people. “This has been unnerving, I know, to a lot of people in Fort Worth because it’s not the Fort Worth we know,” said Joel Burns, a gay member of the City Council. “There is a lot of scratching of people’s heads.”

Kathleen Hicks, a council member who represents the neighborhood where the bar is located, said the accusations of police brutality have rattled the city government and warrant an independent investigation. She added that she had heard no complaints about the bar before the raid.

“It has caused a lot of soul searching within City Hall and beyond,” Ms. Hicks said. “Fort Worth has been able to move quietly along and avoid all the tension and strife that you have seen in other cities, but sometimes you need to have tension and strife. I hope that this will be a wake-up call.”

References

1 Huffstutter, P.J. (2009-07-06). “Police raid at gay club in Texas stirs ugly memories”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-07-06.

2 ^ a b McKinley, James (July 4, 2009). “Raid at Club in Texas Leaves Man in Hospital and Gay Advocates Angry”. New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-04.

3 ^ “Man injured during Rainbow Lounge raid in Fort Worth speaks out”. Dallas Morning News. 2009-07-06. Retrieved 2009-07-06.

4 ^ “Erect-a-Set”. Fort Worth Weekly. May 4, 2005. Retrieved 2009-07-15.

5 ^ Associated Press via the Los Angeles Times: Fort Worth mayor apologizes for gay bar raid

6 ^ Associated Press: Fort Worth mayor says apology for injury, not raid; Accessed: 18 July 2009;

7 ^ First Rainbow Lounge Investigation Report Complete Press release of August 6, 2009, TABC Website. Accessed 1 June 2010.

8 ^ TABC Chief Moreno Takes Action Following Rainbow Lounge Investigation Press release of August 28, 2009, TABC Website. Accessed 1 June 2010.

9 ^ Brown, Angela K., Texas liquor board fires 3 over gay bar raid, Houston Chronicle/Associated Press, 2009-04-28

10 ^ a b c Rainbow Lounge Use of Force Report Complete – Agency Announces Further Operational Changes Press release of November 5, 2009, TABC Website. Retrieved 1 June 2010.

11 ^ [1] Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, IMDB. Accessed May 11, 2012.

12 ^ First Rainbow Lounge Police Raid On Fort Worth’S Rainbow Lounge the Subject of New Documentary Article released February 29, 2012, TowleRoad Website. Accessed March 1, 2012.

13 ^ Raid of the Rainbow Lounge: Official Trailer Trailer posted February 21, 2012. Accessed March 1, 2012.