On The Banality of Evil
In the Rainbow Lounge incident, unlike so many, there are clear winners and losers. The winners get to walk away.
By Andy Campbell,
10:32PM, Thu. Jul. 2, 2009
It's been almost a week since the Fort Worth police and TABC decided to raid the Rainbow Lounge on what was reported to be a "routine" inspection. A few days since police chief Jeff Halstead told folks he was "happy" with the force used by his staff in the raid. An interesting (and recent) update to Halstead's comments reveals that he is suspending all operations with the TABC until he learns more about the relationship between his own department and the TABC.
What about the relationship of these two bodies with queer communities? Somehow, I don't think Halstead would stop operations to consider that history
Joel Burns, an openly-gay council member in FW, stated "It's my hope the fact that this is a gay bar and the violence that happened there are not in any way tied. Obviously, as someone who loves Fort Worth, as someone who is gay, I don't want those two things to be connected."
Burns and Mayor Pro Tem Kathleen Hicks have been vocal and supportive voices in this fracas – speaking at rallies and almost immediately releasing statements expressing their concern about the raid. Burns and Hicks have also been replying via email to those who have contacted them about the incident through the Equality Texas website (and if you haven't done this yet, please do so now NOW). The upshot: Both Burns and Hicks are calling for investigations.
But Burns' statement has been driving me wild! Especially that part about gay bars and violence not being tied/connected.
I understand his sentiment; he cares about his hometown, and Burns may be perturbed that the raid is getting the national media attention it has. His office has most certainly been flooded with calls and emails to take action. And yet if Burns stepped back from the fact that these events took place in our backyard, I think he could turn this into a teachable moment.
It's never too soon to reflect on the meaning of such things, and so let me proffer a try:
It is precisely because a violent raid and a gay space are linked, that everyone in this country should be paying attention. Against Burns' best wishes, homosexuality/queerness and violence has a tangible history. It's not just "unfortunate," as Burns said in an early statement, that the raid happened on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall but it was almost masterful in the raid's ability to show us the kinds of progress we've made in the interim. Remember that Nina Simone song, "Mississippi Goddamn"? I've been singing the chorus all day – "too slow!" Because hatred and intolerance has an actual and lasting effect on queer bodies. Want the physical proof? How about that blood clot in Chad Gibson's cranium? (Which although it has stopped bleeding may take six months to a year to dissolve, and even then, it's not entirely clear if Gibson will survive). Want the psychological proof? There will be some who were present at the raid who will never feel completely comfortable being in the presence of public servants like police and TABC again. Ever.
What's worse is the distinct probability that these guys and gals at the Rainbow Lounge were mistrustful long before the raid happened.
We're taught to be. Imagine.
It's what happens when you get stopped by a highway patrolman in Oklahoma for not using your turn signal. When he asks what you and your travel-mate are doing driving together. You know immediately what the question means, but you answer politely. "We're moving," you say. You think: Don't call the guy in the seat next to you your boyfriend, lower the register of your voice, and always say, "Yes, sir," or "No, sir." Remember to do these things. When he lets you go after detaining your boyfriend in his car with a guard dog who has been barking and growling non-stop, you can pretend what happened to you happens all the time to white straight folks too. But, largely, it doesn't. It happens to racial and sexual minorities, and it happens every day. It happened last week. It also just happened to be a significant day for queers. Lucky us.
That was a true story, a trip I took with an ex-boyfriend to move my stuff up to Ohio. I still remember every detail. That shit sticks. And it's incredible thinking about how much of that behavior was self-policed. Who taught me to lower my vocal register in front of law enforcement? The officer didn't have to do anything more than ask a simple, yet very loaded question.
In the Rainbow Lounge incident, unlike so many, there are clear winners and losers. The winners get to walk away, and it's a mark of privilege.
TABC officers can go home. They can go to the grocery store and buy chicken the next day because they have a really killer recipe for chicken cacciatore. They can sit down and watch the Simpsons. But Gibson is no longer afforded the luxury. His life was irrevocably and unquestionably changed. As were the lives of so many at the Rainbow Lounge. Just the financial burden of medical and court fees alone will be too much for some of these men and women to carry. Instead they will petition their community, and we will give, because their lives are our lives. Even then, they still may lose their cars, their homes, because they have to take off work to testify in court. Everyone is on the razor's edge these days.
Do the TABC officers involved have to worry about dying from a blood clot, or affording rent/groceries? No, they get switched to day shift. This is a slap on the wrist, folks! Maybe even a light tap.
It reminds me of some of the bathroom reading I've been doing lately What? You mean you don't read Eichmann in Jerusalem when you go to the bathroom? The central thesis of Hannah Arendt's book, which details the war trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, is that evil is carried out daily by ordinary people, not necessarily by sociopaths or psychopaths.
It's too easy to demonize these officers who raided the Rainbow Lounge – to make them into virulent and raging homophobes. The truth is that they probably watched the Simpsons while eating chicken cacciatore. And that chicken was probably really good.