(Reuters) - A gym owner in Atlanta who banned police officers and military members defended his policy on Wednesday after receiving scores of death threats prompted by the rule posted on his business’s door.
Jim Chambers said the rule had been in place since early 2016 when he opened the East Atlanta Barbell Club in Georgia’s capital. The club advertises itself as “a radically aligned, left-friendly gym and community.”
Chambers said he has many members who are gay, lesbian and transgender, or belong to racial minority groups, some of whom said they had been harassed by police officers.
“We know statistically that those people are at risk around police in America,” Chambers said in a telephone interview. “I had members who joined because of the policy: they saw it on the door and thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ and joined.”
He referred to a string of high-profile cases of police killing unarmed people in recent years. There have also been police officers targeted in retaliation, including two New York City officers ambushed and fatally shot as they sat in their car in December 2014.
The policy had drawn little attention, Chambers said, besides from one officer who tried to join and became “rude” upon being told the reason he could not.
But Chambers pasted a strongly worded version of the policy, including an expletive, to the door a couple of weeks ago. That prompted a man to contact WXIA-TV, a local news channel, to say he was offended as a military veteran. WXIA did not name the veteran.
Since the channel’s report aired on Tuesday, Chambers said he had received a threatening email or call every minute or so.
The Atlanta Police Department did not respond to a request for comment, but was quoted by WXIA as saying its officers would nonetheless respond to an emergency at the gym.
Chambers, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and describes himself politically as “somewhere between an eco-anarchist and a Marxist-Leninist,” said he would not call the police in any circumstances. He also disapproved of U.S. military interventions abroad.
He said the gym had about 30 members, many of whom he lets train for free or in exchange for voluntary work at the gym.
Former police officers and military veterans were generally welcome to join, he said, adding that they were no longer in a position to use force against people on behalf of the government.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Andrew Hay