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Commentary: Police Did not Open Fire on a Gay Bar Handing Out Water to Protesters

Policing tactics, certainly during the current nationwide unrest, are ripe for scrutiny, but the LGBTQ Nation headline, Police opened fire on a gay bar because the owner was handing out water to protestors, definitely raises eyebrows. The article begins with the assertion, “The police shouted, “The game is over!” before they opened fire without warning.” It goes on to describe the horror scenario of a business owner of an LGBT bar who was protecting his business from rioters being targeted by the police and fired upon.

              The Raleigh NC, bar owner, Tim Lemuel, described the situation saying that instead of expressing their concerns over the bar passing out water and other supplies to protesters, “They just chose not to. And at some point they just went straight for guns blazing.” The incident happened shortly after midnight as the bar and several of the staff were staying at the location to defend it, Lemuel stating the bar was vandalized with a “white supremacist” symbol and glass windows broken in the riot the night before.

              The police responded to an anonymous tip that the bar was handing out supplies and had been watching the location throughout the day, only responding that evening. Shortly after midnight 6 officers told the individuals to leave the building. The following provided by LGBTQ Nation,

“This is my business,” Lemuel responded in video that has since been posted online. “I rent this space.”

The police officers again told him to move. “The game is over. Get out.”

Lemuel walked back toward his bar, and police said, “You’ve been told,” and opened fire.”

              This, however, was not a complete rendering of the full story. As the news website cited, The News & Observer, stated, “More than 1,000 people had filled the streets of downtown Raleigh the night before. By early morning, storefronts had been shattered and streets littered with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets launched by police into the crowds.” Seeming to think the group standing outside the bar were potential rioters, the police told them to “move” saying, “I don’t care where you go, you gotta go,”

              Lemuel responded telling them it was his business and he wasn’t leaving and he continued back towards his bar. This is when the police fired audible charges without projectiles intended to disperse crowds with loud bangs. The police then said, “Move!” the officer yells, as Lemuel continues walking. “The game is over. Get out!” Lemuel told the reporter he knew they were harmless bangs and so he was not frightened but understood why his staff might have thought they were gun shots.

              One member of the group at the bar admitted, “I could see how, with everything that was going on, how things could be heightened and their goal to disperse crowds that are being destructive or being harmful, would be necessary,” But insisted the group was not chanting or being loud or destructive. Council member Saige Martin argued it reminded him of the Stonewall riots where the LGBT rights movement is argued to have begun citing, “black and brown trans and queer bodies” rioted against police brutality. He continued, “We are still dealing with those same issues for those same people today,” he said. “And hearing those words echo so aggressively as if there was a game to be had? I think (it) speaks perfectly well to the kind of culture and thinking that exists and pervades law enforcement today.”

              Of course there appears to have been no anti-LGBT motivation involved and the bar is located in downtown Raleigh, where violent riots occurred the night before. Most likely, local police forces were taking no chances at all and dispersing any gatherings of people on the streets so late at night, evidenced by leaving them be throughout the day. Although, it does appear the aggression was unnecessary and would be frightening to anyone caught in that position, it is not how LGBT media or advocacy presents it.

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