The owner of an LGBTQ bar in North Carolina was fired on by police after giving water and supplies to people protesting the death of George Floyd.
Officers used “less-lethal” weaponry against Tim Lemuel, owner of Ruby Deluxe in Raleigh, N.C., after receiving an anonymous tip that he was helping protesters marching for justice following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed last week when a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for nine minutes and ignored his cries for help.
Lemuel told the Raleigh News & Observer that his bar was vandalized on Saturday, May 30, with its glass doors being smashed and one window being sprayed with a white supremacist symbol.
Fearing further damage, Lemuel said he went to the bar on Sunday to deter vandals, and while there established a first aid station in the parking lot offering water, food, and a place for protesters who had been tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed to wash their eyes.
Lemuel said the station was operating for around seven hours when, after midnight on Monday, June 1, six police officers started approaching the bar.
In a video posted to Twitter, officers can be heard repeatedly shouting “Move!” as they advance on the parking lot.
“This is my business. This is my business,” Lemuel shouted back, pointing to Ruby Deluxe. “I rent this place.”
Lemuel repeated that Ruby Deluxe was his business and he rented the space, while starting to walk towards the building.
“You’ve been told!” one officer yells as they continue to approach.
Shouts of “Stay right there!” and “I don’t care where you go, but you’ve gotta go!” can also be heard from the officers in the video.
As they near the parking lot, the officers start discharging weaponry, causing loud bangs and flashes as Lemuel and his staff reach the bar’s entrance.
“The game is over!” one of the officers yells. “Get out!”
Lemuel asserts that Ruby Deluxe is his business one last time as he crosses the threshold of the bar, before the camera cuts out.
RALEIGH POLICE JUST FIRED FLASH BANGS AND LESS LETHAL ROUNDS AT MEDICS, INCLUDING THE OWNER OF RUBY’S DELUXE, A QUEER BAR WHERE THE MEDICS WERE STATIONED. pic.twitter.com/sGckVjRC1e
— inside agitator ☭ (@bennykoval) June 1, 2020
Posting on Facebook, Lemuel said he walked away from the officers because he is “an air assault artillery vet,” but his “companions ran for their lives, screaming.”
“They have never been fired upon. Whatever trust they had remaining for local law enforcement was lost during this incident,” he wrote. “Not all volunteer medics are ready for that sort of thing, can we agree? Shouldn’t really need to be ready for the cops to shoot at you. Might I also add that these were queer folks, a marginalized group that already has to actively avoid being attacked just living their day to day lives.”
Lemuel told the News & Observer that no one was hurt during the incident, but reiterated that his employees were scared by the discharge of weapons.
“I was in the Army for eight years, so the bangs didn’t bother me, but my staff were scared out of their minds,” he said. “If you’ve never been in that situation it appears like you’re going to be killed.”
He added that the officers’ actions were shocking given that police deputies had been watching the first aid station during its seven-hour operation, before suddenly advancing after midnight.
“During the seven hours, they had, you know, every opportunity to come down and check on us, see what was going on or tell us their concerns,” Lemuel said. “They just chose not to. And at some point they just went straight for guns blazing.”
Speaking to WRAL, Lemuel said officers “were just shooting first, asking questions later.”
“I had my hands where I can see them, and I was shouting I was a business owner,” Lemuel said.
Wake County Sheriff’s Office defended the use of “less-lethal force” in the incident, claiming that protesters who accessed the first aid station were “throwing rocks and other projectiles at our deputies” in another part of the neighborhood. WRAL reported that the weapons discharged were “flash bangs.”
“The deputies fired two audible charges, they contained no projectiles,” spokesman Eric Curry said. “They were loud bangs, and they were deployed by a shotgun.”
In an email to the News & Observer, Curry added that the use of “less-lethal” force was “appropriate, for the safety of subjects.”
“Once deputies urge the crowd to disperse several times and there is non-compliance, the next step is to disperse the crowd,” he wrote.
But Lemuel said that the officers’ actions still didn’t excuse the fact that they had monitored the first aid station for hours prior to the sudden assault.
“People who are civilians coming out to provide medical aid shouldn’t have to wonder if it’s a real bullet or not. [They] shouldn’t be fired on by the police,” he told WRAL. “At any point, they could have walked over and said, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?’ or ‘We have some concerns about what you’re doing.'”
In a post on Facebook, Ruby Deluxe thanked those who had reached out to offer the bar support, but instead urged people to direct “donations and efforts to social justice [organizations] and bail funds,” and said that the bar would also be donating to bail funds.
The approach of the Wake County officers — and subsequent outrage on social media — led two members of the Raleigh City Council to demand an investigation from Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown and City Manager Ruffin Hall.
Councilmember Nicole Stewart said she was “quite distraught” watching the video.
“Had it been anybody, it would have been bad enough,” she told the News & Observer. “The idea that it was an individual, a business owner, trying to help other individuals in our community made it that much more startling. And I couldn’t let it sit.”
Councilmember Sage Martin, one of two LGBTQ on the council, called Ruby Deluxe “a safe space for so many people” and a “home to queer folks.” He criticized the police response, given Lemuel and his staff were communicating with officers and only providing food, water, and first aid to protesters.
“For the response to be the game is over?” Martin said. “When I heard that, it made the hair on my body stand up.”
The councilmember said that the video reminded him of the “black and brown trans and queer bodies” who led the Stonewall uprising in 1969. (The officers’ advance on the bar took place in the early hours of June 1, the start of Pride Month.)
“We are still dealing with those same issues for those same people today,” Martin said. “And hearing those words echo so aggressively as if there was a game to be had? I think [it] speaks perfectly well to the kind of culture and thinking that exists and pervades law enforcement today.”
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