NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly 50 years after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn catalyzed the modern LGBT rights movement, New York’s police commissioner apologized Tuesday for what his department did.
“The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple,” Commissioner James O’Neill said during a briefing at police headquarters.
“The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive,” he added. “And for that, I apologize.”
The apology comes weeks ahead of the milestone anniversary of the raid and the rebellion it sparked on June 28, 1969, as patrons and others fought back against officers and a social order that kept gay life in the shadows.
Organizers of what is expected to be a massive LGBT Pride celebration in the city this year had called this week for police to apologize. So had City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is openly gay.
The Pride organizers cheered O’Neill’s remarks.
“The NYPD, as an institution, needed to take responsibility for what happened at Stonewall. This isn’t going to undo the decades of violence and discrimination that our community has experienced at the hands of the police, but it’s a good first start,” said James Fallarino, a spokesman for NYC Pride.
The confrontation at the Stonewall wasn’t the first time gay people had protested or spontaneously clashed with police. But it proved to be a turning point, unleashing a wave of organizing and activism.
At the time, many LGBT people lived in fear of arrest, harassment, professional ruin and family ostracism. The psychiatric establishment saw homosexuality as a mental disorder, and law enforcement often viewed it as a crime.
LGBT people could be subject to arrest for showing affection, dancing together, even for not wearing a certain number of items deemed gender-appropriate. Bars that served gay people had at times lost their liquor licenses, and others — like the Stonewall — were simply unlicensed. Raids were common.
“What happened should not have happened,” O’Neill said, adding: “This would never happen in NYPD in 2019.”