Cathy Woolard: Atlanta police bar closings look like discrimination

Cathy Woolard – the first openly LGBT person elected to office in Georgia and a candidate for Atlanta mayor – said she's "deeply disturbed" by Atlanta police closing two gay bars during Black Gay Pride and suggested the incident was spurred by discrimination.

Woolard issued a statement Tuesday after Project Q Atlanta first reported the incident, which took place about 12:30 a.m. on Monday.

"I was deeply disturbed to learn that Atlanta Police Department officers chose to force several gay bars to close nearly two hours early on Labor Day as people celebrated Black Gay Pride weekend," Woolard said.

"It is clear that the officers failed to exercise sound judgement by choosing to ignore the city ordinance extending the allowable hours of operation on Labor Day and dismissed the objections of business owners who carried physical copies of the ordinance in their hand," Woolard added.

Atlanta police ordered Blake's, Ten, G's and 10th & Piedmont to close about 12:30 a.m. on Monday – some two hours ahead of closing time – as officers showed up in force to the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue. That's where hundreds of Black Gay Pride participants were enjoying nightlife options after the day-long Pure Heat Community Festival in Piedmont Park.

But a city ordinance allows bars and restaurants to remain open until 2:30 a.m. on Mondays during four holiday weekends – MLK, St. Patrick's Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Atlanta police called the incident an "honest mistake."

“The bars came to the attention of the morning watch commander – an openly gay male – because crowds in the area were spilling out onto the streets, causing potential public safety hazards. Any notion the bars were targeted because of their clientele is unfortunate and simply not true," said Carlos Campos, an Atlanta police spokesperson.

But Woolard said it's "difficult not to interpret the action as discriminatory against the LGBTQ community."

City Council member Alex Wan, the only openly LGBT member of the council, called the incident "disappointing" and said he's working with Atlanta police to prevent it from happening again. Wan's District 6 includes a portion of the Midtown intersection where the incident took place.

Woolard's full statement about the incident:

I was deeply disturbed to learn that Atlanta Police Department officers chose to force several gay bars to close nearly two hours early on Labor Day as people celebrated Black Gay Pride weekend. It is clear that the officers failed to exercise sound judgement by choosing to ignore the city ordinance extending the allowable hours of operation on Labor Day and dismissed the objections of business owners who carried physical copies of the ordinance in their hand.

Given the fact that no other bars were shut down in this way, it is difficult not to interpret the action as discriminatory against the LGBTQ community. That this incident took place during Atlanta’s 21st annual Black Gay Pride, an event that is extremely significant for our city, only compounds the problematic nature of the decision.

Although I appreciate that officials and spokespersons from the department have recognized the improper closing of these establishments as the regrettable mistake that it is, more must be done to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. The police are not immune to the inherent and often unexamined biases that permeate our society, so it falls to the city to implement training programs that can eliminate these problems. This whole debacle illustrates just how much work we have to do in this area, despite decades of education and interaction between LGBTQ community advocates, police officials, and Atlanta City Hall.