It was around 3am June 29th and things were winding down at La Bata de Boatiné, a gay bar on Robadors Street in Barcelona's bohemian Raval neighborhood. About 50 patrons were winding down their Gay Pride celebrations when suddenly 4 police vans pulled up outside, filled with armed officers of the Catalan regional police, Mossos d'Esquadra. Dressed in anti-riot gear, the agents moved quickly, dividing themselves into three groups to cordon off the street so that some of them could enter La Bata Boatiné and the bar next door, El 23.
In order to get into La Bata de Boatiné customers must ring a buzzer and wait for someone to open the door. Last Saturday night officers decided to bypass that formality and simply broke the door down instead, the El Diario newspaper reported.
"Suddenly a column of Mossos came in wearing helmets, masks and bullet-proof vests. There were about 20. It was surreal. People got nervous," said Pau, a customer who characterized it as all, "very violent."
Pau explained to the El Dario that during the operation the officers did not search anyone and hardly even even asked for identification. Still, he believes this was just "one more step in a strategy of repression" against lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender people, and that the goal of this "totalitarian" operation was clearly "to frighten."
In fact, the only person the Mossos asked for ID at La Bata de Boatiné that night was the bar's owner, Miquel. He told the paper that he believes the tactics used by the agents were due to "homophobia" otherwise "it makes no sense to have all this police presence just to ask me for a document," especially when the bar passed a city inspection only four months ago.
When Miquel was asked for his identification, some of the customers began to request badge numbers of the officers, because they wore no identification -- which is against the law. At that point the officers allegedly removed the customers from the bar, although many waited out front to make sure the bar owner was alright.
Miquel said that after the customers left a police dog was brought in to search for drugs, but the animal smelled nothing and they soon left empty handed.
Next door at El 23, the operation seems to have gone even further, with allegations that at least two people were beaten by police, although only one of them has spoken out. El 23 is not a gay bar but there are reasons to believe that police may have thought otherwise; for one, it shares an address with La Bata de Boatiné: 23 Robadors Street.
'I thought I was going to die.'
One of the people at El 23 on the night of June 29th was an office worker by the name of Sergi Boal, who was having a beer with a friend when the police came in. Boal claims he was detained in the bar after everyone else was released because unlike most of the other patrons he continued to complain loudly during the hour or so they were held inside.
"I pay your salary with my work, I have a right to know what is happening," is one of the verbal challenges he made to the officers -- and the one he thinks may have angered them enough to later beat him until, "I thought I was going to die."
Boal told El Diario that as the other customers were leaving he heard one of the officers call his friend 'maricon' ('faggot'), which gave him the impression that the police thought that El 23 was a gay bar.
According to a complaint filed by Boal, once he was alone with the 20 police officers in the bar, an agent who had previously told him repeatedly to shut up grabbed him by the neck and said, "Now that you're all alone you don't speak up, huh; you coward, you're all the same, scum," and then began beating him on the feet, the rear, the head. Boal thought that if he defended himself it would only give them an excuse to charge him with 'resisting arrest,' so, he stood still and let the Mossos pummel him. They eventually let him go, but not until they had carefully reviewed the contents of his wallet.
A night of raids, but 'without incident'
A few blocks away that same night, riot control agents of the city police force, the Guardia Urbana, made similar raids on other places, including other gay bars, such as El Cangrejo. There officers did check IDs and frisk people. Customers interviewed by El Diario described feeling intimidated and said they had never seen similar incidents. Some even thought it was part of a show and that at any moment music would start up so that the policemen, who had taken over the club's stage, could begin a striptease.
With media attention growing over the past week, the Mossos sent out a press release yesterday describing the sweeps as merely a "security presence in a nightlife zone" and claiming rather shockingly that they took place "without incident." They reportedly entered six locations and arrested 11 persons: 6 for possession of drugs, four for theft and one on an outstanding warrant.
El Diario reports that according to its sources at the Mossos and Guardia Urbana these kinds of operations are routine and it was only a "coincidence" that this one occurred during the city's gay pride observances. The paper also cited the sources as saying the reason they wore helmets and vests was because "there are people who may respond poorly to a police entrance."
Echoes of Stonewall
Today the El Periodico newspaper is reporting that the owners of the bars that were raided are discussing the possibility of taking legal action and that liberal political parties are asking for explanations. Barcelona city counselor Mercè Homs offered an apology, "if there were inappropriate attitudes."
Meanwhile, at an event at El Cangrejo last night a plaque bearing the name Stonewall was unveiled, in tribute to the Greenwich Village gay bar whose patrons stood up to a raid by New York police 44 years ago, and in so doing marked a turning point in the defense of the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.