New York’s Police Commissioner James O’Neill apologized on behalf of the NYPD about the events that sparked the Stonewall Riots, which happened 50 years ago this month.
“I think it would be irresponsible to go through WorldPride month and not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969,” O’Neill said. “I’m certainly not going to stand up here and pretend to be an expert on what happened Stonewall. I do know what happened should not have happened. The actions taken by the NYPD. were wrong, plain and simple. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize.
He added that he promised the LGBTQ+ community the events at “Stonewall will never happen in the NYPD in 2019.”
The police raided the Stonewall Inn, igniting a three-day riot in which LGBTQ+ bar patrons rebelled against police. According to the New York Times, the apology came after out city council member Corey Johnson said on 1010 WINS that the NYPD should consider doing so earlier this week.
“I think it would be an important step toward further healing and reconciliation, and recognizing what happened in that crucial moment,” Johnson said.
The irony, though, is that even if this riot did not happen at the Stonewall Inn, it could have been any bar. New York’s Police Department had customarily raided bars where LGBTQ+ people met under the guise of enforcing “disorderly conduct” laws, which criminalized drinking combined with same-sex dancing, kissing, or cruising — basically the NYPD was enforcing a ban on gay bars. And police were often working with the bar's owners (read: we're talking organized crime) to carry out these raids.
Once the bars were raided, “patrons were lined up and required to show identification; if they didn’t have any, they could be arrested. Men were hauled in for dressing in drag and women for wearing less than three pieces of traditional “feminine” clothing,” according to David Carter’s Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. “Sometimes the cops even went to the extreme measure of sending female officers into the bathroom to verify people’s gender.”
So it wasn’t just that it was Stonewall; the police would have kept raiding gay bars until this same thing happened elsewhere in the city. The cruelty with which police acted ended up being the catalyst of the movement. As Miss Major told Out’s Raquel Willis this year, “Stonewall wasn’t done out of a sense of pride. It was done after a buildup of shit from constant police raids in Greenwich Village. It just came to a head like a pimple — and it got popped.“
Fifty years later, even as there are out cops and police officers who march in New York’s pride parade, plenty of activists are now demanding that police be removed from Pride parades altogether.