•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

Stonewall 1969: ‘Turning point of rage’

Lavender & red, part 65

Published Jun 8, 2006 8:47 PM

No footage or photographs exist of what happened outside the Stonewall bar in the early hours of June 28, 1969. The following descriptions rely on first-person witnesses, whose accounts have been compiled in books, and coverage from the not-so-friendly reporting in the Village Voice by Howard Smith and Lucian Truscott, an army lieutenant on leave who occasionally wrote for the Voice.

The police raid on the Stonewall bar continued to draw more and more people from the surrounding streets in Green wich Village. Others hurried to the scene after getting a phone call about what was happening. Smith, who was on the scene, described the crowd as “growing very quickly. Every time I’d blink, there were more people.”

The mood grew tense and angry as the police wagon arrived. The cops brought out several known members of organized crime, and then the Stonewall employees —including John, the African Amer ican men’s room attendant; Blonde Frankie, the doorman; and other workers. Many in the crowd reportedly booed the Mafia and cheered the Stonewall employees.

Truscott wrote that the crowd then shouted and booed at police when the cops loaded transgender and transsexual prisoners into the police wagon.

According to reports compiled by David Carter, one of the police shoved one of the trans prisoners, “who turned and smacked the officer over the head with her purse. The cop clubbed her and a wave of anger passed through the crowd, which immediately showered the police with boos and catcalls, followed by a cry to turn the [police] wagon over.”

He added, “Gay men began to go to the many pay phones around the Sheridan Square area and call up friends, telling them to rush down to the Stonewall. Others ran throughout the neighborhood shouting that the Stonewall was being busted, and word of the raid passed through the night like a fever.”

Numerous eyewitnesses recall in detail what happened when police dragged out a prisoner described as a masculine lesbian wearing “fancy, go-to-bar drag for a butch dyke.”

Stonewall employee Harry Beard said that the lesbian had struggled with police inside the bar. She was handcuffed behind her back and arrested for violation of a New York edict that required each person to be wearing three pieces of “gender appropriate” clothing. Beard related that when she protested the rough treatment, a cop hit her in the head with a nightstick.

Those outside described the butch lesbian as kicking, shouting and struggling with police all the way to the police cruiser.

When cops put her inside, she immediately got out and fought police all the way back to the entrance of the bar. “But after she reached the Stonewall the police pulled her back to the police car and again placed her inside it. She got out again and tried to walk away. This time an officer picked her up and heaved her inside.” The struggle lasted five to 10 minutes.

An anonymous woman witness later wrote in a letter that the fight “set the whole crowd wild—berserk!”

One person there that night, Tom, remembers “Pennies ricocheted off the [police] van, a beer can hit the door.” Many in the crowd, who reportedly feared that others still in police custody inside were being beaten, began shouting their names, demanding that the cops release them.

Truscott wrote, “It was at that moment that the scene became explosive.”

Smith concluded that when the police forced this butch lesbian into the police car for the third time, “the turning point came.”

Next: Sylvia Rivera: ‘Street gay people out front, drag queens behind them, everybody behind us.’

Email: [email protected]