Nationwide there have been protests following the police killing of George Floyd. After days of demonstrations, all four officers involved in the incident that killed Floyd, have been fired and charged. Still, the protests that have led to this point have at times turned violent, generally due to police aggression. On Sunday, a queer bar in North Carolina was fired on by police as its employees attempted to assist protestors with first aid. Something similar happened in Des Moines on Monday.
The Blazing Saddle has been serving its local community for 37 years. Monday night, a few employees were doing that in a new way, armed with water and milk of magnesium as well as other first aid supplies to help protestors who might be passing who might have come into contact with police. At the time, the police were deploying tear gas bombs. But as three of the employees were headed back to the bar after having tended to one protestor, they were stopped.
"An unmarked white pick-up containing numerous officers in riot gear turned onto our street," the bar wrote in a post on its Facebook. The employees were at the bar initially because the city had encouraged venue owners to not board up their buildings, so they had come in person to prevent looting. "Many of the [protestors who had been dispersing] on foot started running and our people with first aide supplies were heading back to the Saddle from the alley. At this point the police disembarked from the pick-up bed, guns pointed, and proceeded to put the 3 on the ground."
"We ran back in the bar and locked ourselves inside," Bryan Smith, co-owner of the gay bar, tells Out. That "we" included Smith and three others. Police approached the bar, guns drawn and demanded that they open the space and come out. While three complied, one who has since been identified as Vana B. They too eventually came out and the police "cleared" the space by searching it for anyone else. The police also went through the bags of the first group, while they were still cuffed, face down on the sidewalk. Vana B. wrote to social media that she was "terrified" during the incident.
“We were here just keeping an eye on the bar, not even at the protests that evening,” she wrote.
"One of the [police] said 'Oh he's Stinky, he's ok.'" Smith said referring to his nickname. As a result, Smith and the rest of the second group were told to go back inside and lock the door. The cops then questioned the other three and took them into custody. According to employees at the bar, during this exchange, none of the protestors were arrested at the time.
The three waited over two hours for processing and were bailed out but were still held, one of whom wad denied medical attention. They were later released with tickets. Since, Smith and his staff have been contacting lawmakers and representatives about what happened.
“We were doing absolutely NOTHING wrong, but yet they decided to terrorize us, seize our home, and even fucking arrest our family for doing NOTHING. WRONG," Vana wrote. “And don’t feel bad for us, seriously, don’t. FEEL FUCKING AWFUL for The Black Community who has to fucking live in a world where this one single night for us is an ENTIRE FUCKING REALITY for them every god damn day. Let that sink in.”
Blazing Saddle re-opened just a week ago after being closed due to the global pandemic. When a 9 p.m. curfew was put in place county-wide on Sunday, the establishment began to close at 8 p.m. to allow for employees to get home. This incident occurred after that curfew, at around midnight. The staff was still in the venue as the protests had lasted all day, and they were watching the space.
Smith says there has been little need for their aid since Monday as police stopped using tear gas.