Stonewall Riot Apology: Police Actions Were ‘Wrong,’ Commissioner Admits


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The violent police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969 is widely regarded as a seminal event in the gay rights movement. But police officials had long refused to admit that officers’ behavior and the raid itself were not justified, leaving a rift between law enforcement and gay-rights supporters that seemed to deepen distrust over the years.

On Thursday, as people around the world began commemorating the 50th anniversary of the clash, New York’s police commissioner took a step toward making amends, issuing an unusual official apology on behalf of the Police Department for the actions of officers during the Stonewall uprising.

“The actions taken by the N.Y.P.D. were wrong — plain and simple,” the commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said during an event at Police Headquarters.

It was an admission that gay rights leaders said was momentous and unexpected, if overdue.

“To have the N.Y.P.D. commissioner make these very explicit remarks apologizing, it’s really moving,” said Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, who is gay and who had a day earlier called for a police apology.

Still, some cautioned the Police Department that its future actions needed to back up its words.

“The history of police violence and criminalization of L.G.B.T.Q. people sadly continues to this day,” said Richard Saenz, an attorney at Lambda Legal, a national civil rights organization.

Politicians and gay rights leaders had stepped up their calls for Mr. O’Neill to apologize in recent months, urging a public reckoning as New York hosts World Pride, a global gathering that is taking place in the city this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

During a safety briefing related to World Pride at Police Headquarters, the commissioner offered the formal apology that Police Department officials, including Mr. O’Neill himself, had said for years was unnecessary.

“I think it would be irresponsible to go through World Pride month, not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969,” Mr. O’Neill said. “I do know what happened should not have happened.”

“The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize,” he added.

The auditorium erupted in applause.

The Stonewall uprising began shortly after midnight on June 28, 1969, when officers with the now-defunct Public Morals Squad raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.

The police said they had arrived to disperse the bar’s patrons because the Stonewall Inn had violated liquor laws. Eight officers and an inspector arrived at the club and ordered about 200 people to line up and show their identification. Some were asked to submit to anatomical inspections.

The officers’ behavior that night would quickly become a stain on the department and an electrifying force for the L.G.B.T. movement.

“They came in the bar. They slammed people against the wall. They shoved people, and they hurled insults that you can probably imagine,” said Mark Segal, 68, who participated in the protests that night.

Stonewall patrons, fed up with longstanding harassment at the hands of law enforcement, pushed back.

As officers conducted the raid, a crowd gathered outside, shouting “gay power.” Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who were forced out of the bar that night taunted the police. Some threw bottles and stones.

The ensuing clash lasted for about an hour, but days of street protests followed, resulting in arrests, injuries and property damage.



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