By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com June 29 2012 12:05 PM ET
June 28 and 29 are the anniversary of the history-making Stonewall riots in New York City's Greenwich Village. The riots at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street are known as the spark of the modern gay rights movement. While researching our archives for the 45th Anniversary issue, we came across this report, provided to The Advocate in the summer of 1969 by the New York Mattachine Society. The following article ran in the September 1969 issue of The Advocate.
Police Raid on N.Y. Club Sets off First Gay Riot
by Dick Leitsch, Reprinted from New York Mattachine Newsletter.
The first gay riots in history took place during the pre-dawn hours of Saturday and Sunday, June 28-29 in New York's Greenwich Village. The demonstrations were touched off by a police raid on the popular Stonewall Club, 53 Christopher Street. This was the last (to date) in a series of harassments which plagued the Village area for the last several weeks.
Plainclothes officers entered the club at about 2 a.m., armed with a warrant, and closed the place on grounds of illegal selling of alcohol. Employees were arrested and the customers told to leave. The patrons gathered on the street outside and were joined by other Village residents and visitors to the area.
The police behaved, as is usually the case when they deal with homosexuals, with bad grace, and were reproached by "straight" onlookers. Pennies were thrown at the cops by the crowd, then beer cans, rocks, and even parking meters. The cops retreated inside the bar, which was set afire by the crowd.
A hose from the bar was employed by the trapped cops to douse the flames, and reinforcements were summoned. A melee ensued, with nearly a thousand persons participating, as well as several hundred cops. Nearly two hours later the cops had "secured" the area.
EVEN WAITERS' TIPS
The next day, the Stonewall management sent in a crew to repair the premises, and found that the cops had taken all the money from the cigarette machine, the jukebox, the cash register, and the safe, and had even robbed the waiters' tips!
Since they had been charged with selling liquor without a license, the club was reopened as a "free store," open to all and with everything being given away, rather than sold.
A crowd filled the place and the street in front. Singing and chanting filled Sheridan Square Park, and the crowds grew quickly.
At first, the crowd was all gay, but as the weekend tourists poured into the area, they joined the crowds. They'd begin by asking what was happening. When they were told that homosexuals were protesting the closing of a gay club, they'd become very sympathetic, and stayed to watch or to join in.
One middle-aged lady with her husband told a cop that he should be ashamed of himself. "Don't you know that these people have no place to go and need a place like that bar?" she shouted. (Several hours later, she and her husband with two other couples, were seen running with a large group of homosexuals from the night sticks brandished by the Tactical Police Force.)
The crowds were orderly, and limited themselves to singing and shouting slogans such as "Gay Power," "We Want Freedom Now," and "Equality for Homosexuals." As the mob grew, it spilled off the sidewalk, oveflowed Sheridan Square Park, and began to fill the roadway. One of the six cops who were there to keep order began to get smart and cause hostility.
A bus driver blew his horn at the meeting, and someone shouted, "Stop the Bus!" The crowd surged onto the street and blocked the progress of the bus. As the driver inched ahead, someone ripped off an advertising card and blocked the windshield with it. The crowd beat on the sides of the (empty) bus and shouted, "Christopher Street belongs to the queens!" and "Liberate the street."
'SCREW YOU' LOOK
The cops got the crowd to let the bus pass, but then the people began a slow-down-the-traffic campaign. A human line across the street blocked traffic, and the cars were let through one at a time. Another car, bearing a fat, gouty-looking cop with many pounds of gilt braid chauffeured by a cute young cop, came through.
The fat cop looked for all the world like a slave-owner surveying the plantation, and someone tossed a sack of wet garbage through the car window and right on his face. The bag broke and soggy coffee grounds dripped down the lined face, which never lost its "screw you" look.
Another police car came through Waverly Place, and stopped at the corner of Christopher. The occupants just sat there and glared at the crowd. Suddenly, a concrete block landed on the hood of the car, and the crowd drew back. Then, as one person, it surged forward and surrounded the car, beating on it with fists and dancing atop it. The cops radioed for help, and soon the crowd let the car pass.
Christopher Street, from Greenwich to Seventh Avenue, had become an almost solid mass of people — most of them gay. No traffic could pass, and even walking the few blocks on foot was next to impossible. One little old lady tried to get through, and many members of the crowd tried to help her. She brushed them away and continued her determined walk, trembling with fear and murmuring, "It must be the full moon, it must be the full moon."
WANTS COPS TO BEHAVE
Squad cars from 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th precincts had brought in a hundred or so cops who had no hope of controlling the crowd of nearly two thousand people in the streets. Until this point, the crowd had been, for the most part, pleasant and in a jovial mood. Some of the cops began to become very nasty and started trouble. One boy, evidently a discus thrower, reacted by bouncing garbage can lids nearly off the helmets of the cops. Others set garbage cans ablaze.
A Christopher Street merchant stood in the door of her shop and yelled at the cops to behave themselves. Whenever they would head in her direction, she'd run into the shop and lock the door.
The focus of the demonstration shifted from the Stonewall to "The Corner" — Greenwich Avenue and Christopher Street. The intersection, and the street behind it, was a solid mass of humanity. The Tactical Police Force (TPF) arrived in city buses. One hundred of them disembarked on The Corner and 50 more at Seventh Avenue and Christopher.
SAVE OUR SISTER
They huddled with some of the top brass that had already arrived, and isolated beer cans, thrown by the crowd, hit their van and cars now and again. Suddenly, two cops darted into the crowd and dragged out a boy who had done absolutely nothing. As they carried him to a waiting van brought to take off prisoners, four more cops joined them and began pounding the boy in the face, belly, and groin with night sticks. A high shrill voice called out, "Save our sister!" and there was a general pause, during which the "butch"-looking "numbers" looked distracted.
Momentarily, 50 or more homosexuals who would have been described as "nelly" rushed the cops and took the boy back into the crowd. They then formed a solid front and refused to let the cops into the crowd to regain their prisoner, letting the cops hit them with their sticks, rather than let them through.
It was an interesting side-light on the demonstrations that those usually put down as "sissies" or "swishes" showed the most courage and sense during the action. Their bravery and daring saved many people from being hurt, and their sense of humor and "camp" helped keep the crowds from getting too nasty or too violent.
The cops gave up on the idea of taking prisoners and concentrated on clearing the area. They rushed both ways on Greenwich, forcing the crowds into 10th Street and 6th Avenue, where the cops formed a flying wedge and, with arms linked, headed down Greenwich, forcing everyone in front of them into side streets. Cops on the ends of the wedge broke off and chased demonstrators down the side streets and away from the center of the action.
'UP YOUR IRISH ASS'
They made full use of their night sticks, brandishing them like swords. At one point a cop grabbed a wild Puerto Rican queen and lifted his arm to bring a club down on "her." In his best Maria Montez voice, the queen challenged, "How'd you like a big Spanish dick up your little Irish ass?" The cop was so shocked he hesitated in his swing, and the queen escaped.
At another point, two lonely cops were chasing a hundred or more people down Waverly Place. Someone shouted out that the queens outnumbered the cops and suggested catching them, ripping off their clothes, and screwing them. The cops abandoned the chase and fled back to the main force for protection.
The police action did eventually disperse the crowds, many of whom abandoned the cause and headed to the docks for some fun. By 2:30, nearly two hours after the bus had been delayed, the area was again peaceful. Apart from the two to three hundred cops standing around the area, it looked like an unusually dull Saturday night.
Then at 3 a.m., the bars closed and the patrons of the many gay bars in the area arrived to see what was happening. They were organized and another attempt was made to liberate Christopher Street. The police, still there in great numbers, managed to break up the demonstrations. One small group did break off and attempt to liberate the IND subway station at 6th Avenue and Waverly Place, but the police went in and chased everyone out.
By 5:30 a.m., the area was secure enough that the TPF police were sent home, and the docks were packed tight with homosexuals having the times of their lives. After all, everything was perfectly "safe" — all the cops were on "The Corner!
ONLY FOUR INJURED
In all, 13 people were arrested on Saturday morning — seven of them employees of the Stonewall. Four more were arrested on Sunday morning, and many more were detained, then released. Apparently only four persons were injured — all of them cops. Three suffered minor bruises and scratches, and one a "broken wrist" (it was not specified whether it was the kind of "broken wrist" that requires a cast, or the kind that makes it noisy to wear a bangle bracelet).
Sunday night saw a lot of action in the Christopher Street area. Hundreds of people were on the streets, including, for the first time, a large "leather" contingent. However, there were never enough people to outnumber the large squads of cops milling about, trying desperately to head off any trouble.
The Stonewall was again a "free store," and the citizenry was treated to the sight of the cops begging homoexuals to go inside the bar that they had chased everyone out of a few nights before.
Inasmuch as all the cops in town seemed to be near The Corner again, the docks were very busy, and two boys went to the Charles Street station house and pasted "Equality for Homosexuals" bumper stickers on cop cars, and the van used to take away prisoners.
One of the most frightening comments was made by one cop to another, and overheard by a MSNY member being held in detention. One said he'd enjoyed the fracas. "Them queers have a good sense of humor, and really had a good time," he said. His "buddy" protested, "Aw, they're sick. I like nigger riots better because there's more action, but you can't beat up a fairy. They ain't mean like blacks; they're sick. But you can't hit a sick man."