Over the weekend, police targeted a queer bar in North Carolina amid ongoing protests across the nation following the death of George Floyd.
According to The News and Observer, Tim Lemuel, owner of the bar Ruby Deluxe in Raleigh, North Carolina, discovered on Sunday evening the bar had been vandalized with a white supremacist symbol and that the doors and windows were broken.
The next day, he and his staff showed up to protect the building from more damage as protests continued in downtown Raleigh.
Lemuel and his staff had set up a first aid station in the parking lot to treat peaceful protestors who had gotten injured. They also handed out water bottles and light snacks to the near 1,000 people who took to the streets.
According to Lemuel, they had been doing this work for almost seven hours without interruption from authorities when law enforcement approached them with weapons.
In video that has since gone viral, an officer can be heard screaming at Lemuel, “Move! Move!” to which Lemuel yells back, “This is my business. I rent this place. I rent here!”
The group of officers didn’t stop. As they kept approaching, wielding their guns, one screams out, “You’ve been told!” followed by, “I don’t care where you go, you gotta go!”
Two shots were then fired, after which the officer yells, “Move! The game is over. Get out!”
“I was in the Army for eight years, so the bangs didn’t bother me, but my staff were scared out of their minds,” said Lemuel, who's owned Ruby for five years. “If you’ve never been in that situation it appears like you’re going to be killed.”
Jen Varani, who was part of Lemuel’s group of staffers helping to give protestors first aid, added to The News and Observer, “I could see how, with everything that was going on, how things could be heightened and their goal to disperse crowds that are being destructive or being harmful, would be necessary. But we weren’t chanting. We weren’t yelling. We weren’t gesturing to them. There was nothing that we were doing to instigate a response like that."
According to Lemuel and Varani, the deputies had been watching them for hours but chose not to approach them or express any concerns until the moment they pulled out their weapons.
Lemuel later took to Facebook in response to a heated discussion on Reddit about the situation.
“I own a business," he wrote. "I was there during normal operating hours. I was on my lot and kept my friends contained within the lot. We had been there for 7 hours. The deputy sheriffs could have, at any point, come over to see what we were doing or voiced their concern. This basically sums up the reason folks are mad. No thought what-so-ever [was] put into the decision to come at us guns blazing.
“I also think they had no business using riot control cs, tear gas, firing foam batons, or whatever blanks they fired," he continued. "I was out the day before and witnessed so many officers shooting grenades at civilian's chests and heads. I witnessed so many officers with poorly sealed masks, so many cs rounds shot against the wind. It was a scary thing to watch so many inexperienced men and women using riot control weapons. Like out of a movie where a lot of people get hurt because training was rushed.”
When the video hit the Internet, city council members were quick to disavow the act — including council member Saige Martin, one of two out LGBTQ+ people elected to the council last year.
“It is a safe space for so many people,” Martin the Observer of Ruby. “It is a home to queer folks. For the response to be the game is over? When I heard that, it made the hair on my body stand up.”
Martin added that the experience reminded him of “Black and brown trans and queer bodies that started the queer liberation movement in New York in Stonewall,” adding, “We are still dealing with those same issues for those same people today. 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.”
Erica Curry, a spokesperson for Wake County sheriff’s office, said in a statement that the unnamed officers used the unspecified weapons for “riot-related crime control.”
“We will say only that the strategy to use ‘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,” Curry explained.
However, according to reports, the sheriff’s policy for its use of force states that “no weapon, either deadly or less-than-lethal will be used against any subject that is offering only passive or verbal resistance.”
Furthermore, the policy states that “less-than-lethal” weapons are only appropriate if a person poses “immediate risk of death or serious physical injury to themselves or others and other less forceful options are not reasonably available."
Raleigh city council member Nicole Stewart was also distraight at the situation, telling the Observer, "Had it been anybody, it would have been bad enough. 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.”
Stewart has called on police chief Cassandra Deck-Brown to investigate the incident.