Nearly 50 years after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn catalyzed the modern LGBT rights movement, New York's police commissioner apologized Thursday for what his department did, the AP reports. "The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple," Commissioner James O'Neill said during a briefing at police headquarters. "The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive," he added. "And for that, I apologize. ... What happened should not have happened." The apology comes weeks ahead of the milestone anniversary of the raid and the rebellion it sparked the night of June 27-28, 1969, as patrons and others fought back against officers and a social order that kept gay life in the shadows. At the time, the psychiatric establishment saw homosexuality as a mental disorder, and law enforcement often viewed it as a crime.
LGBT people could be subject to arrest for showing affection, dancing together, even for not wearing a certain number of items deemed gender-appropriate. Bars that served gay people had at times lost their liquor licenses, and others—like the Stonewall—were simply unlicensed. Raids were common. Organizers of what is expected to be a massive LGBT Pride celebration in the city this year had called this week for police to apologize. So had City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay. Police participate in and protect NYC Pride's annual parade, but the lack of a formal apology from the department for the 1969 raid—the very event that gay pride marches commemorate each June—has hung over the collaboration. Pride organizers cheered O'Neill's remarks, but organizers of an alternative Stonewall anniversary march called his comments an "empty apology" made under pressure and said transgender and minority LGBT people, among others, still face heavy-handed policing. (More on Stonewall here.)