The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

'Wrong, plain and simple’: 50 years after the Stonewall raid, New York City’s police commissioner apologizes

James O’Neill was speaking at a safety briefing for Pride Month events.

New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill apologized on June 6 for the 1969 raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar. (Video: NYPD)
Placeholder while article actions load

A half-century after the New York Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn — prompting a riot credited with sparking the modern gay rights movement — New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill apologized.

“The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple,” O’Neill said Thursday. “And for that, I apologize.”

O’Neill was speaking at a safety briefing for Pride Month events. After his apology, there was extended applause.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, plainclothes police raided the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bar frequented mostly by gay men, with some lesbians and transgender people, as well.

For the patrons, raids and police harassment were nothing new. But this time, they decided to fight back. A crowd of hundreds soon gathered outside the bar and threw coins, rocks and garbage, briefly trapping the officers inside the Stonewall.

Reinforcements were called in to break up the crowd; in all, 13 people were arrested that first night. Unrest around the Stonewall continued for days.

On Thursday, the commissioner said “what happened should not have happened.”

Stonewall wasn’t the first time LGBT people had resisted police violence. But in its aftermath, two new groups emerged — the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance — that took a more in-your-face, direct action approach to LGBT rights than its predecessors such as the Homophile Movement and the Mattachine Society.

“It was a departure point for Gays like the Bastille was for French people,” wrote historian David Carter in “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution.”

Pride’s raucous parades began as suit-and-tie protests called the ‘Annual Reminder’

Christopher Street Liberation Day was held on June 28, 1970 in New York. The event is generally regarded as the first LGBT pride march. (Video: AP)

The next year, GLF and GAA members organized an event called “Christopher Street Liberation Day.” The Stonewall Inn was on Christopher Street, and many homeless LGBT youth lived in a park on the street.

They held the demonstration on June 28, 1970 — the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It is generally regarded as the first Pride march.

Mark Segal, a gay man who participated in the Stonewall riots, reacted to O’Neill’s apology on Facebook, saying he hoped the commissioner would deliver the apology personally at the NYC Pride March on June 30.

“It would not only be welcomed,” Segal said, “it would close the books on this chapter and give some of us closure.”

Read more Retropolis:

‘The king and his husband’: The gay history of British royals

The gay rights pioneer who demanded justice from the Supreme Court in 1960

Decades before ‘The L Word,’ she risked jail to create a magazine for lesbians

A history lesson for Trump: Transgender soldiers served in the Civil War