This morning, bright and early, I got a call from Sgt. Pedro Criado--a man who sounded like he'd lost quite a bit of sleep lately. I had called the "media contact" number last night and left my information, expecting a standard email, and to my surprise I got a call back bright and early (7am, Texas time). Sgt. Criado was very cordial and forthcoming in answering my questions about the "code inspection" at the Rainbow Lounge, and he was able to clear up some mysteries--though now I have more questions for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission; who, by the way, are those guys in the tan shirts that say "State Police."
In fact, there needs to be a separation made here between the guys in the tan "State Police" shirts and the guys in the blue "Ft. Worth Police" shirts... I've taken a look at all of the pictures from the event--all of the photos of people being calmly handled (hand-cuffed or not) being questioned in a standing position are being handled by men in blue. All of the photos of people being violently shoved to the ground are being handled by men in tan. Sgt. Pedro Criado said that he can't speak for the TABC--and the press release below is ONLY from the Ft. Worth Police Dpt, it is NOT a joint press release--so I think I have way more questions now for TABC than the Ft. Worth Police. Like, "why couldn't you follow the Ft. Worth police lead and be decent people, rather than go around getting photographed beating the shit out of people?" I was not there, so I therefore do not know which officers were being 'over-zealous' and which were not, but I do now recognize the distinction in the pictures.
Sgt. Criado's wanted me to encourage anyone who was there to please come and lodge formal complaints and make formal statements because they are trying to conduct a formal investigation and he seemed quite sincere when he said they want to get to the bottom of it. He said that they released their press statement earlier than they normally would, though later than people wanted because they wanted to be thorough, but they still want more information.
He is asking for pictures and video. Though I'm pretty sure that I don't have any readers in Texas (though I do in Belgium--hey Belgian reader, whoever you are!) if you DO happen to read my blog and were there, please take WHATEVER evidence you have down to the station. This Sgt. Criado really sounded like a good one, so you can ask to talk to him if the other people are less than nice.
He expressed concern with me at the hate and vitriol they have been receiving--and he said "you have no idea what people have been saying"--which I saw as a teachable moment, and explained to him that many gays and lesbians have to experience that kind of hate every day in their life, and hopefully this is an opportunity for the Ft. Worth police to learn something and become educated about this segment of their city's population. He seemed to get it--he's been studying the Stonewall Uprising ever since, and said he had never heard about it before that night, but now he will never forget about it--or the date.
He wanted to be clear to me that homophobia would not be tolerated on their force "Everybody deserves respect; black, white, latino, or whatever your sexual preference is. Our officers should give respect to everyone--unless they give you a reason not to." I totally agree, and if anyone was threatening officers, then I think that WOULD be grounds to arrest them. I think I take exception to arresting someone for being flirty with an officer, but I kept my mouth shut, because I'm pretty sure the Ft. Worth Police are going to learn that on their own before this is all done. That I did press to him--this is probably going to take a long time to go away.
About that flirtiness, however, he said the commander made him change the language in the press release below to "sexually suggestive movements" but it sounds like the first two people who got arrested were arrested for grinding on the officer's legs--not his words, but mine. I don't think that grinding is all that horrible--how many girls probably go up to the officers in straight bars, and flirtily grind against them when they come in. I'm sure I've SEEN it before. However, what he DOES have a point with here, is that that is a good indication that that person is fairly drunk (unless that person is me, because I am a clown drunk or sober).
MY QUESTION NOW IS: IF THAT'S THE CASE IS THIS ENFORCED EVENLY? If they walked into a packed straight bar, and some cute big-boobed chick with big frizzy blonde hair, and a low cut top came up to them and danced provocatively on them, would SHE be zip-tied, no questions asked?
My first reaction that I interjected quickly with Sgt. Criado was "maybe they thought they were strippers or go-go dancers." Its true, if I were in a bar, and a few people came in dressed as cops, it wouldn't be too far fetched to think this was a performance deal.
The most surprising thing, however, was the answer about the "breathalyzer" issue--if you read a previous post, I quoted the Dallas Voice's account of a patron who was insisting that they were sober, demanding a breathalyzer, who was being hustled out. Sgt. Criado said that breathalyzers are only used for traffic issues, and that assessing if someone is overly intoxicated at the bar is "up to the officers' discretion." Here lies the rub. This is where the Ft. Worth Police and the TABC are going to get stroked over the rails EQUALLY. Regardless of who was rougher with the patrons, police-gay relations are already sensitive everywhere in the world. You add to it that its the south. You add to it that it is a brand new gay bar and its the officer's FIRST contact with it. Add to it the FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF STONEWALL, things are VERY sensitive. This is not a good time to leave things ambiguous and subjective. They should have gone a little extra and brought breathalyzers in and made SURE that people they arrested were INDEED at a dangerous level of intoxication.
He did point out that not everyone taken outside was arrested. The officers--as they well should--make an assessment visually or by breath or speech slurring, and then take someone outside to make the determination as to whether or not they are really overly intoxicated--away from the noise and the crowds and in better light. This right here is something I see no problem with. However, with a community where police relations are sensitive, an objective instrument like a breathalyzer must be used, and only then you should ONLY cart off people who were planning on driving home, or whose BAC is at a dangerously high level and any more drinks could lead to alcohol poisoning.
When the police are dealing with a community who have HISTORICALLY been not only harassed but even BRUTALIZED by police, its in their best interest to cover THEIR own asses to avoid this kind of firestorm. After talking to the Sgt. I do believe HE at least is not homophobic--just not familiar at all with the gay community. Looking at the pictures, I see no Ft. Worth police handling people they are talking to in inappropriate manner--though I'm disturbed by the TABC officers in the pictures holding patrons to the ground. However, there is no way to contest allegations of unfairly targeting a group if you're leaving that determination of who goes in the paddy wagon and who doesn't up to the officer's discretion. What's worth, you're putting that officer in a very awkward position. You have one officer who gets it wrong more than the others--he pulls five people out and none of them ended up being actually intoxicated--and what is now going to be said about him?
Regardless of whether he is or not, now that guy looks like a homophobe. That's a big burden to bear.
The Ft. Worth Police ought to take from this that actions need to be modified when the situation is more sensitive--more precautions taken, more care and time in planning and execution, and better care made in making an objective determination if someone, indeed, deserves to get hauled off and booked.
Speaking of that paddy wagon, apparently it IS typical--especially during the summer--for officers to bring the transport vehicle to a code inspection. That IS enforced evenly, he says they bring it to all of the code inspections. Glad I don't live in Texas!
BELOW is the press release as it was emailed to me. I want to thank Sgt. Pedro Criado for his time, his transparency and his willingness to deal with me courteously and carefully. I HOPE that the ENTIRE police force there is doing the same with EVERYONE involved. I was not there, but I'm very upset about this too. He said they are getting calls from coast to coast--some not so constructive (please DO NOT contact them just to scream, curse or call names)--and I think that this is going to turn out to be a positive learning experience for the Ft. Worth Police Dpt. They seem to me to be open to learning the lesson. Let's hope that they do.