Stonewall riot apology: Police actions were ‘wrong,’ commissioner admits

click to enlarge Members of the New York Police Department watch a training video for officers covering pride events during the LGBTQ Pride Month Community Safety Briefing by the NYPD in New York on June 6, 2019. New York’s police commissioner, James O’Neill, apologized on Thursday, June 6, 2019, on behalf of the Police Department for officers’ actions during the Stonewall riots, a seminal 1969 clash outside a Greenwich Village club that is widely regarded as a turning point for the modern gay rights movement. - GABRIELA BHASKAR/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times
Members of the New York Police Department watch a training video for officers covering pride events during the LGBTQ Pride Month Community Safety Briefing by the NYPD in New York on June 6, 2019. New York’s police commissioner, James O’Neill, apologized on Thursday, June 6, 2019, on behalf of the Police Department for officers’ actions during the Stonewall riots, a seminal 1969 clash outside a Greenwich Village club that is widely regarded as a turning point for the modern gay rights movement.

By James C. McKinley Jr. and Derek Norman
New York Times News Service

NEW YORK — New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill apologized Thursday on behalf of the Police Department for the actions of police officers during the Stonewall riot, the seminal 1969 clash outside a Greenwich Village club that is widely regarded as a turning point for the modern gay rights movement.

The commissioner made his comments at police headquarters during a safety briefing related to Pride Month, the annual celebration of LGBT culture.

“I think it would be irresponsible to go through World Pride month and not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969,” O’Neill said. “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.

The auditorium applauded.

“I vow to the LGBTQ community that this would never happen in the NYPD in 2019,” O’Neill said. “We have, and we do, embrace all New Yorkers.”

The Stonewall uprising began after midnight June 28, 1969, when police raided a Greenwich Village gay bar on Christopher Street known as the Stonewall Inn.


Police said they were there because the bar had violated liquor laws. But the Stonewall patrons, fed up with long-standing harassment at the hands of law enforcement, decided to push back.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who were forced out of the bar that night taunted police. Some threw bottles and stones. Days of street protests followed, resulting in arrests, injuries and property damage.

On Wednesday, Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, suggested in a radio interview on 1010 WINS that it was time for the Police Department to apologize for its behavior.

“I think it would be an important step toward further healing and reconciliation, and recognizing what happened in that crucial moment,” said Johnson, who is gay.

He added he thought it would be especially fitting for O’Neill to issue the apology during Pride Month.

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