MANHATTAN (CN) – Weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn raid, a conflagration that sparked the movement for LGBT liberation, New York City’s police commissioner came to terms Thursday with what he called the “discriminatory and oppressive” legacy of his predecessors.
“While I’m certainly not going to stand up here and pretend to be an expert on what happened at Stonewall, I do know that what happened should not have happened,” Commissioner James O’Neill said. “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple.”
The raid of the Greenwich Village gay bar began on June 27, 1969, and extended through early the next morning. As patrons fought back, a rebellion sprang forward that catalyzed a social movement and brought gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender life out of the margins.
Much has changed in half a century, and former President Barack Obama designated Stonewall as a national monument in the twilight of his second term.
Underscoring this shift, O’Neill said: “I vow to the LGBTQ community that this will never happen in NYPD 2019.”
“We have and we do embrace all New Yorkers,” he added.
O’Neill’s inclusion of the “T” in that formulation is particularly significant, as the commissioner heads a police force that has faced criticism over its treatment of transgender New Yorkers.
One of Stonewall’s icons, Sylvia Rivera, was a transgender woman.
Today the NYPD faces a lawsuit from another transgender woman who says officers flung bogus charges of “false personation” against her and used pink handcuffs during her arrest to add insult to injury.
The organizers of what is expected to be a massive LGBT Pride celebration in the city welcomed the commissioner’s remarks.
“The NYPD, as an institution, needed to take responsibility for what happened at Stonewall,” James Fallarino, a spokesman for NYC Pride, told the Associated Press. “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.”
Those leading an alternative Stonewall anniversary march were less impressed by what they described O’Neill’s “empty apology.”
“Where has this apology been for the last 50 years?” a group called the Reclaim Pride Coalition said in a statement.
“The NYPD is still arresting trans kids of color for walking down the street and arrested a transwoman in the Bronx who was walking home from work, holding her in custody for 24 hours, in handcuffs,” their statement continues. “The NYPD has spent decades entrapping gay men. And the NYPD continues to strike fear in communities of color and other marginalized communities.”
During his speech, O’Neill noted that the NYPD is “not perfect,” and he said that the department is working to improve.
“We have — and we do — embrace all New Yorkers,” he said. “We are a department that is inclusive. We understand that to move forward and to keep our great city safe, every culture and every community must be treated as equals and with respect.”
At the time of the Stonewall rebellion, homosexuality was criminalized on the legal code and pathologized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Those laws and diagnoses are now a relic of a less enlightened past. A similar evolution has occurred in recent years in the medical community’s treatment of transgender people.