While attention is focused on efforts to end discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual members of our nation's military, a legal knock-out against another violation of our rights has just occurred, putting an end to certain unfair and unconstitutional practices of the Atlanta Police Department. Whether we are judging the policies of the single largest arm of our government -- the U.S. military -- or the actions of local police departments with which people come into contact every day, the message is the same: The Constitution is for everyone. Stop violating our rights.
Last year in Atlanta, the police department dispatched more than twenty officers, including its "Red Dog Unit" dressed in SWAT team gear, to storm into a gay bar known as the Atlanta Eagle. During the raid, the APD forced everyone to lie face down on a dirty floor amidst spilled beer and broken glass -- including one military veteran suffering from back injuries he got in the Iraq War -- and required them to stay there while their pockets were searched and background checks were run. Bar patrons heard antigay slurs from the police. Not a single patron was suspected of or charged with any crime.
In November 2009, attorneys for the Atlanta Eagle and some of its patrons filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Department. The plaintiffs in the case known as Calhoun v. Pennington were represented by Lambda Legal with lead counsel, Atlanta attorney Daniel J. Grossman, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P.
The settlement reached this week will force the Atlanta Police Department to rewrite unconstitutional policies regarding arrest, search, and seizure, and make other changes to protect the public from police misconduct and ensure greater accountability. The settlement also provides for a payment of $1,025,000 by the City of Atlanta. The federal court order ending the case found that each of the individual Plaintiffs was unlawfully searched, detained, and/or arrested during the raid and that none was personally suspected of any criminal activity.
Memo to government: Cut it out.
When ordinary folks, whether LGBT or not, stop by a bar to meet people and have a drink, they should not be afraid that their town or city police force will send officers to burst in on them, terrorize and insult them, and force them to lie on the floor without a valid reason. That's unfair and unconstitutional.
And when patriotic lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans serve their country in the military, they should not be afraid that someone will seek out or discover their sexual orientation and be discharged from service as a result. In fact, they should not be told that their lawful, private lives are a secret that cannot be shared. That's bad for our military -- and discriminatory and unconstitutional.
And when married same-sex couples seek health insurance coverage for their spouses, or Social Security or pension benefits as other married couples do, they should not be told by their government that their marriages do not count. That's discriminatory and unconstitutional, too.
Every person who assumes public office swears to uphold the Constitution. The LGBT community, like other minority groups that face discrimination, has battles to fight on many levels -- but we should not have to fight those whose duty it is to treat everyone equally under the law. Whether it be our federal and state leaders who shape laws and institutions or local mayors, city councils, police officers, firefighters, school boards and principals, our government should be on our side, fighting with us, not against us.
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