ATLANTA -- Atlanta's police chief says she's "disappointed" that four gay bars and restaurants were forced to shut down early during the holiday weekend.
This year's Labor Day weekend coincided with Black Gay Pride weekend and a host of other events which saw an increase in guests flocking to Midtown's LGBTQ-friendly bars. But some of those bars and restaurants, located in what's traditionally seen as the heart of Atlanta's gay community, said they were "unlawfully" forced to close down earlier than planned by the Atlanta Police Department.
In a statement on it's Facebook page, TEN Atlanta said police showed up to shut down festivities Sunday night at midnight, even though the owners had proof that they were allowed to remain open until 2:30 a.m.
City laws outline that alcoholic beverages can only be sold on Sundays until midnight. However, if certain holidays, Labor Day among them, fall on a Monday, alcoholic beverages can be sold until 2:30 a.m. Monday. Despite that and the fact that the establishment reportedly had hard copies of those ordinances, TEN Atlanta said it along with Blakes on the Park, 10th and Piedmont and G's Midtown were forced to close.
The business apologized to its customers for the shut-down, which they called a clear "act to stop the Black Gay Pride event and all other events on the corner of 10th and Piedmont."
When news of APD shutting down the bars early hit social media, many commenters expressed frustration and outrage. It also drew criticism from former Atlanta City Council President and current mayoral candidate, Cathy Woolard who issued a statement of her own, writing, "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."
On Wednesday, Atlanta Police Chief Erica Shields issued a statement addressing the situation. Shields said while she did not believe the Zone 5 commander who made the decision intended for the act to be discriminatory, she understood how the commander's "actions certainly gave that perception to bar owners, managers and patrons."
She went on to say there were several steps the commander could have taken to confirm that the businesses had permission to stay open until 2:30 a.m. but failed to do so. As a result of the commander's decision, Shields said the watch commander has been moved to other duties in another zone.
"Any perception that the Atlanta Police Department does not respect, and celebrate, that diversity must be dealt with swiftly," Shields concluded.
Read the chief's full statement below:
I’m disappointed with the decision by the Zone 5 morning watch commander to force four gay bars/restaurants in Midtown to close two hours early during Black Gay Pride weekend. While I do not believe the commander purposely set out to act in a discriminatory manner, his actions certainly gave that perception to bar owners, managers and patrons. Our commanders and officers simply must show more sensitivity to the concerns of our diverse communities. There are several steps the morning watch commander could have taken to further investigate the concerns bar owners expressed that they had permission to stay open until 2:30 a.m. Those steps were not taken. As a result, I have made the decision to move this commander to another duty in another zone. We also must ensure that vital communications about matters such as extended bar hours are properly relayed to zone supervisors expected to enforce such ordinances. The diversity of its people is one of the City of Atlanta’s greatest strengths. Any perception that the Atlanta Police Department does not respect, and celebrate, that diversity must be dealt with swiftly.