Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Atlanta Eagle Gets $1m for Bogus Police Raid

Atlanta, Georgia – The Altanta City Council has voted 14-0 to award the Atlanta Eagle Bar $1 million in response to a federal lawsuit filed by a private attorney on behalf of 19 clients unjustly arrested in a botched police raid last September, according to a report by WTVM News 9 and the Associate Press. The night of September 10, 2009, four-dozen police crashed the Underwear Night special event at the Atlanta Eagle, slamming patrons to the floor, using homophobic slurs, and arresting and detaining 62 people. Police targeted the gay bar on the pretext of illicit sex and drugs, allegations that were never proven. The owner of the Eagle, Richard Ramey, went immediately on the offense against the raid, saying to the Atlanta Journal Constitution on September 12, 2009, “Our problem is with the way our customers were treated,” Ramey told the Journal-Constitution in a Sept. 12, 2009 article. Nick Koperski, a bar patron present at the time of the raid, said in the same article, “I’m thinking, this is Stonewall. It’s like I stepped into the wrong decade.” The Atlanta Police Department refused to cooperate with an investigation by the Atlanta Citizens Council. Charges brought against employees and patrons either  failed to win convictions, collapsed for lack of evidence, or were otherwise dismissed, according to a report by EDGE.  Last March eight employees of the bar were found not guilty of trumped up charges by the Atlanta Police Department in a ruling handed down in Municipal Court. Investigations into the raid found that the Atlanta Police Department did not have a warrant to raid the bar on the night in question. Mandatory revisions to police procedures will be carried out in response to the settlement. The vindication of the Atlanta Eagle stands in sharp contrast to the outcome of the Fort Worth Police Department’s infamous Raid on the Rainbow Lounge just months before the Atlanta debacle. Like the Georgia raid, all charges against patrons arrested at the popular Fort Worth gay bar have been dropped without comment from the city. Unlike the Atlanta outcome, however, the Fort Worth Police Department has never issued a sufficient apology (in our opinion) or formally admitted any wrongdoing in the illicit raid on the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, nor has the action of the FWPD ever been deemed wrong by an outside investigation. This has been in spite of the public action disciplining officers of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) for their part in the raid, and a formal apology issued by the executive of the TABC. What exempted the FWPD from disciplinary actions similar to the TABC?  Factors contributing to the non-resolution of the Fort Worth police raid may include a less-than-robust defense of bar patrons by the Rainbow Lounge ownership at the time of the bust, and the less aggressive approach Fort Worth gay leaders employed to bring the city and the police department to account. While there have been laudable actions in response to the Rainbow Lounge Raid, such as the establishment of a police liaison with the local LGBT community, and transgender protections added to municipal protection statutes, honesty about the motives and motivators behind the Fort Worth raid remain unspoken and unacknowledged. While we are glad the city of Fort Worth dropped charges against patrons charged in the arrests the night of the raid, including public intoxication and groping, the harm done by the raid in Cowtown has not been acknowledged by the powers that be, and therefore the LGBTQ community, and the individual Texans directly wronged remain unjustified. Justice for Atlanta, but how about for Fort Worth? We guess the mayor of Fort Worth has more control over the courts, the press, and the gay establishment in North Texas than the mayor of Atlanta. A good thing? You be the judge.

December 7, 2010 Posted by | Atlanta Eagle Bar Raid, Atlanta Police Department, Fort Worth Police Department, Gay Bar Raids, gay men, Georgia, harassment, Heterosexism and homophobia, Law and Order, Media Issues, police brutality, Politics, Protests and Demonstrations, Slurs and epithets, Social Justice Advocacy, Stonewall Inn, Texas, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Atlanta Eagle Gets $1m for Bogus Police Raid

Judge Rules Mistrial in Duanna Johnson Civil Rights Case: One Juror Hangs Federal Jury

Duanna Johnson, slain transwoman

Memphis, TN – A federal judge in Memphis has ruled for a mistrial in the case of former Memphis Police Officer Bridges McRae, on trial for violating Duanna Johnson’s civil rights.  Memphis LGBT advocates are calling the decision “a failure of the justice system,” according to myeyewitnessnews.com.  Johnson, a transgender woman of color, was repeatedly punched and beaten by McRae with handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles and pepper-sprayed as she was being processed for a prostitution charge at a Memphis police station on February 12, 2008.  The beating was captured on a police surveillance tape, and reaction to the video prompted an immediate investigation resulting in the firing of McRae and a second officer, James Swain.  Johnson had filed suit against the city on the basis of the videotape and the testimony of witnesses who declared that the brutal beating was unprovoked.  Nine months later, as the New York Times reports, Duanna Johnson was shot to death with a bullet to the head on the night of November 9, 2008.  Johnson’s murder, which remains unsolved, prompted intense scrutiny on the original beating case, and charges were filed in federal court for violation of the transwoman’s civil rights.  Besides the controversial videotape of her beating, five witnesses testified in court that the attack on the 6’5″ 250 lb. Black transwoman was wanton, there being no reason for it in her behavior.  Will Batts of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Center, who had watched the surveillance tape repeatedly, said to myeyewitnessnews.com, “[The beating] looked to be unprovoked. It looked to be excessive on the part of the police officer. It looked to be just an attack on someone in a police station with other people standing around. And it was just incredibly violent.” McRae’s attorney argued that his client was simply exercising necessary force to subdue Johnson, blaming her for resisting arrest.  Eleven jurors were convinced of McRae’s guilt.  One was not, however, and after the jury deadlocked, the judge declared the mistrial. The Memphis LGBT community refused to take the news lying down.  A rally in protest of the judge’s ruling will take place April 20 in front of the Federal Courthouse.  “Would it have been different if Duanna were not transgendered,” Batts asked in a press interview. “If it were just an average person from the suburbs that happened to be sitting in that jail room on that day and had this kind of response from the police, would the decision be different?”  Both the prosecution and the defense are to meet with the judge to determine a date for a new trial for McRae.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, police brutality, Protests and Demonstrations, Tennessee, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Judge Rules Mistrial in Duanna Johnson Civil Rights Case: One Juror Hangs Federal Jury

Sending the Devil to Hell for a Trial?: DFW Leaders Demand Independent Investigation in Rainbow Lounge Raid

raid-on-eve-of-stonewall-001Fort Worth, TX – In the wee hours of Sunday, June 28, 40 years to the day after the Stonewall Inn Raid in Greenwich Village that sparked the Stonewall Rebellion against anti-LGBT oppression, officers of the Fort Worth Police and the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission raided the Rainbow Lounge.  Unlike other so-called “checks” of liquor licenses, the police came hot to trot with a paddy wagon, plastic zip cuffs, and bad attitudes, according to many eye-witnesses and targets in the bar.  Word spread fast.  Now the Rainbow Lounge Raid is making national and international news, and the police are changing their tunes about what they did on that fateful night when LGBT Pride was challenged by force once again.  Originally, FWPD Chief of Police Halstead claimed that officers had been “groped” by at least one patron of the bar, and that the severe cranial injury sustained by Chad Gibson, 26, who was arrested for “public intoxication” was due to “alcohol poisoning.”  This is not the first time some version of the tired “gay panic defense” has been marshaled to justify overkill in the treatment of LGBT people.  Ironically, hate crimes perpetrators are generally the ones who use the “blame the victim” technique to blur the oppression of LGBT people.  That peace officers used it in Fort Worth is nearly as noteworthy as their choice of the Stonewall Anniversary to carry out their assault.  Now Chief Halstead is changing stories, saying that Gibson, who is still critical in John Peter Smith Hospital in ICU, was injured “while in custody of the TABC.”

Local business, civic, and activist leaders are calling for an independent investigation of the actions of the FWPD and the TABC during the Raid.  Fearing loss of face for Cowtown, as well as loss of business, leaders are demanding more than an internal investigation that may be self-serving at best.  Meanwhile, Gibson struggles to heal.  No costs of his hospitalization or damages will be forthcoming from the officers who slammed his head into a bathroom step at the Rainbow Lounge, for they are indemnified against facing responsibility for what they did by the state and the city.  Too bad.  As long as harsh treatment can be whitewashed clean by internal investigations and bureaucratic red tape, LGBT people cannot feel safe anywhere in the Metroplex.  The Rainbow Lounge Raid proves that much, at least.  The public has yet to hear a full-throated demand for justice from the Fort Worth LGBT community.  While some are courageously speaking out, the so-called “Fort Worth way” is in full display, with queer folk in Cowtown still keeping their heads low for the most part.  Chad GibsonAs the days drag on from the time of the Raid, and as Gibson fights to get better from bleeding on the brain in ICU, the Fort Worth LGBT community may yet find its voice.  One of the most telling witness statements from a patron of the Rainbow Lounge on the night of the raid was that the assault by police “was just like Stonewall without fighting back.”  The spirit of Stonewall is resistance, plain an simple.  Non-resistance is not and never has been the Stonewall way, and Fort Worth LGBT people and their allies have to find more spine if they are to have freedom and equality in deep, dark red Tarrant County, stronghold of right wing Republicanism in North Texas.

This story has all the makings of a regional earthquake in human rights: Excessive police force, severely injured LGBT people, gay panic defense, police cover-up attempts, heterosexist attitudes, terror in the queer community, and finally, the will to resist on the part of gay men and lesbians who have had enough jawboning and harm from their elected leaders and law enforcement agencies.  Passively allowing the law enforcement agencies and city officials responsible for this outrage to mollify the public with “internal investigations” is like sending the Devil to Hell for a trial.  No jury in perdition would ever find him guilty.  Without consistent pressure coupled with open communications, things will pretty much go back to homophobic normal in Cowtown.  Instead of an earthquake, all Fort Worth may experience from this unwarranted use of brute force will be a shrug.  The coming days will see if the North Texas children of Stonewall will rise up and seize the moment, or not.

Steve Profile Vineyard Websize ~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Director of the Unfinished Lives Project

July 1, 2009 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Domestic Violence, gay men, gay panic defense, harassment, Hate Crimes, Law and Order, Lesbian women, police brutality, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sending the Devil to Hell for a Trial?: DFW Leaders Demand Independent Investigation in Rainbow Lounge Raid

Tennessee Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes Up Dramatically

tbiThe Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) released statistics on May 28 showing a massive spike in 2008 hate crimes in the Volunteer State, up 38% over 2007.  While the largest number of bias-related crimes was against African Americans (a number actually slightly down from 2007), the second largest percentage of violent attacks was against members of the sexual minority–11.8% of the total for 2008.  Reported acts of hate violence against LGBT people in Tennessee increased just a whisker shy of 13% over the previous year.  The entire report in .pdf format may be viewed by going to the TBI website.  The largest category of hate crimes in the 2008 report was bias crimes of unknown motivation.  The numbers of anti-LGBT hate crimes almost certainly will rise when more of these crimes yield evidence about the class or group against whom they were perpetrated.  The Unfinished Lives Project has previously highlighted the steep rise in attacks on transgender women of color in Memphis.  Representative of these brutal crimes was the killing of Duanna Johnson of Memphis, who was murdered in November 2008 after lodging a $1.3 million dollar lawsuit against the city for a savage beating police gave her which was caught on a jailhouse camera earlier in the year.

June 1, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, gay men, Hate Crime Statistics, Lesbian women, Racism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Pattern of severe of anti-LGBT violence increases nationwide

stop hate hand

The Hate Crimes Bill has provided an excellent summary of a new report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs showing anti-LGBT violence has been on the rise since the murder of Lawrence “Larry” King in Oxnard, California, at the beginning of this year.

“The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) reports a recent rash of at least 13 brutal and violent hate crimes that have occurred throughout the country on the heels of the murder of 15 year-old Lawrence King in Los Angeles and the brutal beating of Duanna Johnson, both in February of 2008,” says the Hate Crimes Bill’s website. “NCAVP reports that these hate crimes may indicate a frightening trend of increases in both the number and severity of anti-LGBT violence.”

The NCAVP findings come after several anti-LGBT hate crimes, including the police beating of a transgender woman in Memphis, Tennessee; the harassment and beating of a gay man on a New York subway; the murder of a transgender woman in Memphis, Tennessee; the alleged police beating of a gay man in Greeley, Colorado; the beating of a priest in Queens, New York, for protecting a group of LGBT youth living at a shelter for homeless youth; the midnight home-invasion and arson, in Central New York, by a self-proclaimed Neo-Nazi, who targeted a sleeping 65-year-old gay man (the victim was able to flee the home, unhurt); the fatal bludgeoning of 18-year-old Angie Zapata, a transgender Latina woman in Greeley, Colorado; the beating of gay man Jimmy Lee Dean, in Dallas, Texas, whose injuries were so severe that he was in intensive care and could not be interviewed or identified until five days after the crime; the severe injury of a man in upstate New York, whose two assailants beat, kicked, and shouted anti-gay slurs until they had broken ten bones in their victim’s face; the attack against an 18-year-old living in St Helens, in the United Kingdom, who died a week later from his injuries; the (at least partially) anti-gay-motivated shooting rampage in a Knoxville, Tennessee, church that claimed two lives and wounded seven others; the mob-beating and stabbing of a man perceived to be gay in Staten Island, New York; the ongoing and escalating harassment (for nearly 8 years) of a gay male couple living in Cleveland, Ohio, by anti-gay neighbors; and the ongoing and escalating harassment (for nearly 20 years) of a gay male couple living in a rural Pennsylvania town, who have suffered incidents of gunfire, vandalism, stalking, acts of intimidation, and the indifference from local police.

In a grim coincidence, more than one anti-LGBT hate crime has occurred in both Memphis, Tennessee, and Greeley, Colorado, since the beginning of 2008.

Unfinished Lives also offers our own analysis of the significance of anti-LGBT hate-crime statistics in the United States. The NCAVP’s findings and the Hate Crimes Bill’s detailed summary confirm what has been a growing concern for LGBT persons living in the United States.

August 19, 2008 Posted by | Arson, Beatings and battery, Bludgeoning, Colorado, gun violence, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, home-invasion, mob-violence and lynching, multiple homicide, Neo-Nazis and White Supremacy, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, police brutality, religious intolerance, stabbings, stalking, Stomping and Kicking Violence, Tennessee, Texas, vandalism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pattern of severe of anti-LGBT violence increases nationwide

As Ebony Whitaker laid to rest, hate crime concerns continue in Memphis

According to a July 8 Out & About Newspaper article, the murder of transgender woman Ebony (Rodney) Whitaker has raised concerns about anti-gay violence in Memphis, Tennessee.  As Whitaker’s body was laid to rest on Monday, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) called upon the Memphis Police Department to be more responsive when it comes to crimes committed against the transgender community.

Whitaker’s murder is considered the latest in a string of violent crimes against transgendered persons in Memphis.  TTPC president Marisa Richmond said that the unsolved murder of Tiffany Berry and the police beating of Duanna Johnson point to an unacceptable trend of violence.  “The lack of response by the Memphis Police Department,” says Richmond, “has set a tone in the community that the lives of transgender people, especially African-American, are irrelevant.”


Watch the video of Duanna Johnson’s beating by Memphis Police in February.


For more information about Ebony (Rodney) Whitaker, read a related article at the Memphis Eyewitness News website.

July 11, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Hate Crimes, police brutality, Tennessee, transgender persons | , , , , | 1 Comment


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