Racist photos and LGBTQ bar closures: A tale of two apologies

Assessing a pair of possibly discriminatory Labor Day incidents

Over the holiday weekend, local leaders had to put out statements of apology in two different situations that reeked of discrimination. Everyone messes up at one point or another, but when marginalized communities suffer at the hands of those so-called mistakes, we can't help but wonder if there's a thin line between a sincere apology and paying lip service.

In the early hours of Labor Day, Black Gay Pride revelers were enjoying a night out in Midtown when local businesses TEN Atlanta, Blake's, G's Midtown and 10th & Piedmont were reportedly shut down around 12:30 a.m. Monday morning by local police. According to a Facebook post published yesterday by TEN Atlanta owner James Nelson, the bars were ordered to close two hours early, despite a city ordinance stating they could remain open until 2:30 a.m. because of the holiday. "This was clearly an act to stop the Black Gay Pride event and all other events on the corner of 10th and Piedmont," Nelson wrote.

APD Public Affairs Director Carlos Campos said the bars' early closure was "an honest mistake based on a communication failure." In an interview with Project Q Atlanta, he noted that supervising officers "should have been aware of the City Council's extension of bar hours for the Labor Day weekend, but they were not. The department sincerely apologizes to the affected business owners and their patrons."

Campos also said that the bars were not targeted for closure because of their clientele, and added that Major Darin Schierbaum, the openly gay commander of Zone 5, would be meeting with business owners to apologize in person.

But Nelson says he "can't accept" the apology issued by APD. He tells Creative Loafing: "I printed out the ordinance, their ordinance that comes from the City of Atlanta website, and presented to the officer. In fact, I took a snapshot of this ordinance and sent a text message to a lieutenant at the same time, showing clearly what the ordinance states, that we were in compliance. As they looked at this and read it, they said, 'Mr. Nelson, we're asking you to close your business.'"

"I can't accept an apology because it wasn't a mistake," Nelson continues. "I presented their ordinance to them in writing, and they still forced us to close our business. That's not an honest mistake."


Activist and Atlanta City Council candidate Shawn Walton | Courtesy Shawn Walton

Meanwhile, in Southwest Atlanta, a handful of controversial photos that were on display on the Westside Beltline Trail off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard were taken down over the weekend. The images depicted the work of a project called Canine CellMates, and featured prisoners with dogs but the men in the photos were all black.

Shawn Walton, an activist and Atlanta City Council candidate who lives nearby, took the photos down. He told WSB-TV: "There's no need to display ... more stereotypical images about black men being incarcerated." He added that Beltline leaders should have considered "more positive images of black fathers, black children that are smiling, that are happy. Isn't that what the Beltline is supposed to bring to this community"

Once Beltline leaders learned of the controversy, they issued a statement on their website, saying in part: "Art on the Atlanta Beltline was created to make art accessible to everyone by bringing the exhibit to public spaces and in doing so, be respectful of the community. The photos that were displayed did not reflect our commitment to do that. The community is understandably and justifiably upset and for that we humbly apologize." They added that they would review what happened and seek new ways to involve community members in art selection.

But Walton says the Atlanta Beltline can keep their apology. "They do not have the trust of native residents," he tells CL. "After all their transgressions in displacement, lack of affordable housing, and deafness to the needs of the community they further insult communities of color by placing large-scale photos of black men in prison on the MLK bridge, only to say: 'Our bad for offending you once, again and it won't happen ever again.' I don't believe it at all."

"We need real action," Walton continues, adding that whomever was in charge of this project should be fired. "Them not offending and hurting us again looks like selling and assigning their property to minority small developers, land-trusts and nonprofits who actually care about the people. Them not offending us again looks like commissioning all African-American artists for future art projects in an African-American community ... Until those things are done, they can keep their apology."