New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill has apologized for the police raid 50 years ago that lead to the Stonewall Riots, considered the seminal event in the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement.
In the first-of-a-kind apology from New York City police officials, O’Neill said: “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.”
O’Neill, speaking during a safety briefing related to World Pride at Police Headquarters, added that the actions taken by police officers on the night they raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village were “wrong — plain and simple,” reports The New York Times.
“I do know what happened should not have happened,” the commissioner said. “The actions and laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize.”
The audience broke into applause in response.
The remarks by the commissioner mark a significant change in tone, as for years following the raid on Stonewall, the NYPD refused to admit any wrongdoing or apologize for the raid.
The raid occurred after midnight on June 28, 1969, when officer with the department’s now-defunct Public Morals Squad raided the Stonewall Inn, alleging that the bar had violated local liquor laws.
Eight officers and an inspector arrived at the club, ordering its nearly 200 patrons to line up and show their identification, subjecting some to body searches.
While such occurrences were commonplace in bars catering to LGBTQ people, those in attendance at the bar that night, as well as people and “street kids” from the nearby area, began resisting police, with the conflict escalating and resulting in two nights of rioting.
LGBTQ leaders, many of whom had previously called for an apology from the commissioner, welcomed his remarks.
“To have the NYPD commissioner make these very explicit remarks apologizing, it’s really moving,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is openly gay and was among those calling for an apology.
The executive board of Heritage of Pride, Inc./NYC Pride was among those groups that had called for a formal apology, even offering up the stage at its planned commemoration rally on Friday, June 28, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the riots and kicks off a weekend full of celebrations revolving around World Pride 2019 in New York City.
“Taking responsibility and apologizing for this single event is a small, albeit meaningful step towards improving the larger systemic issues that continue to cause significant harm to LGBTQIA+ people, especially transgender people and people of color,” the organization said in a statement. “It demonstrates what is possible for the future of our community and our movement.”