By Ivan Pereira
Nearly 50 years after New York City police and members of the LGBTQ community clashed outside the Stonewall Inn, the department's commissioner apologized for the NYPD's actions, much to the relief of advocates who have long sought a public apology.
Commissioner James O'Neill began his briefing on the security measures for this year's Pride Month events, which include the June 30 Pride March, by addressing the NYPD's actions at the Greenwich Village bar in 1969. As the police attempted to raid the Christopher Street bar on June 28, 1969, patrons pushed back. The resistance quickly escalated to a riot, and six days of demonstrations followed.
O'Neill told those in attendance Thursday that the police's actions 50 years ago were "wrong, plain and simple."
"I'm certainly not going to stand up here and pretend to be an expert on Stonewall. I do know what happened should not have happened," he said to cheers. "The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize."
O'Neill's mea culpa came a day after City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and NYC Pride, the nonprofit that is producing this year's World Pride Celebration, called on the NYPD to acknowledge its mistakes and actions during the riots, which sparked the first major LGTBQ rights movement in the country.
Johnson said he was thankful that O'Neill responded to their calls and took responsibility for the NYPD.
"(The riots) happened because the police kept raiding Stonewall over and over again, and people being fed up with it, so for Commissioner O'Neill to apologize, I am grateful," he said. "I'm glad he said it will never happen again. It's a great day,"
For one LGTBQ group, however, the commissioner's apology wasn't enough. The Reclaim Pride Coalition, which has consistently criticized the NYPD for its treatment of the community, said O'Neill and the police haven't shown enough change with their policing policies.
"Where has this apology been for the last 50 years?" the coalition said in a statement.
James Fallarino, a spokesman for NYC Pride, did say, however, that the commissioner's statement was a step in the right direction for police relations with LGTBQ New Yorkers.
"This doesn't undo the decades of violence we have experienced and continue to experience, but it's a good step for the community," he said. "He took responsibility over something that he had nothing to do with, and he recognizes his role in this institution and his responsibility."
O'Neill said the department has worked to repair its relationship with the LGBTQ community over the years. He announced the creation of the Lavender Alliance, a program run by the NYPD's SHIELD program, that will provide civilian training and assistance to LGTBQ organizations in the city.
"We have and we do embrace all New Yorkers," he said. "Every culture and every community must be treated as equals and with respect."
The commissioner said NYPD officers will be on high alert during Pride Month celebrations, including the annual Pride March on June 30. Police officials, however, said they did not have any credible threat aimed at Pride month events.