Within the week of November 9-15, Columbus Division Police led a two day "routine narcotics raid," on seven area bars and nightclubs in the Columbus Downtown area. Four of the seven bars were gay-oriented. This has left many in the gay and lesbian community feeling as though they were targeted by the Columbus Police.
Many victims in the bars during the arrests claim that the procedure followed in the raids were illegal and unconstitutional. For example, in two of the gay and lesbian bars raided, police SWAT burst in with guns drawn, and ordered everyone down on the floor before tying their hands behind their backs. There were also claims that each patron was then photographed. In those two situations, the first impression on those in the bars were that they were being robbed. The police department has neither confirmed nor denied these accusations. Also, of the 100 warrants of arrest attained by the police, only 5 arrests were actually made.
When questioned about these "coincidences" the Columbus Narcotics Bureau claims they simply followed tips and evidence which suggested there was illegal drug activity in the bars on the hit list. Many members of the LBG (lesbian, bisexual, gay) population argue this, though, stating that homosexuals "paid a disproportionate price in the raids," and claiming the gay community has always been the primary focus ofharassment on the part of police officers.
Many gays also questioned why Wednesday nightís raids of the gay and lesbian bars were covered live, on the spot, by all three local news stations. "How did they know to be there, with cameras and everything?" said Phil Martin, director of Stonewall Columbus Union. (an LBG rights coalition)
Martin also contends that the gay and lesbian community condemns the use of drugs and finds it very insulting that they were the center of accused persons. "The thing thatís disturbing is police are ignorant to gay and lesbian issues. We want to work with the police in cutting down drug behavior, but they have never made any effort or attempts to work with our community."
Members of Stonewall Columbus and BRAVO (Buckeye Regional Anti-Violence Organization) have set up further dates with the Columbus Police Department to settle uncovered issues and to find out if the gay community is really being targeted in these raids. Executive director of BRAVO, Gloria McCauley says "I think this situation has the potential to do serious damage to the relationship between the LBG population and the police, In the past years, that relationship seems to have improved, but I think these events have set us back quite a bit."
"Itís the 60ís all over again."
By Maggie Hay