New York police commissioner apologizes for Stonewall raid in 1969

NEW YORK, June 6 (Reuters) - The New York Police Department on Thursday apologized for the first time for the raid on the Stonewall Inn gay bar 50 years ago and anti-gay laws of the time that gave rise to the modern LGBT rights movement, describing them as discriminatory and oppressive.

Gay rights advocates welcomed the apology, which they had sought from the NYPD for years.

Police raided the Stonewall, a Greenwich Village tavern, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. At the time, homosexuality was criminalized and most gay bars, including the Stonewall, were operated by organized crime.

Patrons of the bar fought back that night and several days thereafter, leading to unprecedented demonstrations for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Activists memorialized the first anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion with what they called Christopher Street Liberation Day, starting an annual gay pride tradition that is now celebrated around the world.

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Stonewall Inn, NYC -- history, LGBT
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Stonewall Inn, NYC -- history, LGBT
UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: Stonewall Inn nightclub raid. Crowd attempts to impede police arrests outside the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 06: Daily News page M1 Section Two dated Sunday July 6, 1969..Headline: Covering Firm Covers Up Slums..Construction firm superintendent Birger Nilson looks over housing project plans with project manager Warren Obey...Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad..The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 24: Two men dance on a mailbox and cheer as the floats pass by at Gay Pride Parade June 24, 2007 in New York City. The parade celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and honors the Stonewall riots of 1969, when gay bar and nightclub patrons resisted a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 24: Participants wear 'attention needed' t-shirt and march in the Gay Pride Parade June 24, 2007 in New York City. The parade celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and honors the Stonewall riots of 1969, when gay bar and nightclub patrons resisted a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY LUIS TORRES A banner on a restaurant next to the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street June 23, 2009 in the Greenwich Village section of New York as the community marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The disturbances began on the night of June 28, 1969 as a protest by gays against police harassment and helped trigger the modern US gay rights movement. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 21: A general view of rainbow flags at the Stonewall Democratic Club Woman's Awards at the Stonewall Inn on January 21, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02: A general view of the exterior of the Stonewall Inn on March 2, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02: A general view of the exterior of the Stonewall Inn on March 2, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Hider/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26: People stand outside of The Stonewall Inn during the 2011 NYC LGBT Pride March on the streets of Manhattan on June 26, 2011 in New York City.Thousands of revelers had reason to celebrate since New York state legislators approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage which Governor Cuomo signed in to law on Friday June 24. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
Niki Buchanan stands outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village May 9, 2012 shorty after President Obama today announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, reversing his longstanding opposition. The Stonewall Inn, often shortened to Stonewall is an American bar in New York City and the site of the Stonewall riots of 1969, which are widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/GettyImages)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: Atmosphere at Alex Carr's birthday celebration at The Stonewall Inn on June 16, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26: Virginia Sin (L) and Gretchen Menter smile after the Supreme Court ruled key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, at the Stonewall Inn on June 26, 2013 in the West Village neighborhood of New York City. The Stonewall Inn became historically important in the Lesbian-Gay-Bigender-Transgender community after playing a key role during the Gay-rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The high court ruled to strike down DOMA and determined the California's proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage was not properly before them, declining to overturn the lower court's striking down of the law. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30: Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell speaks to the media in front of The Stonewall Inn announcing a new National Park Service initiative intended to identify places and events associated with the civil rights struggle of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans on May 30, 2014 in New York City. The initiative is part of the Obama Administration's effort for the National Park Service to join other agencies in helping to better explain the complex story of the people and events responsible for building this nation. The Stonewall Inn, an iconic bar in the New York's gay rights movement, is the site of a symbolic riot in 1969 that is widely recognized as a catalyst for the modern civil rights movement in the gay rights community. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 26: (L-R) Anna Parisi, 30, visiting from Brazil, embraces her girlfriend, Rebecca Barreto, 24, also from Brazil but studying in New York, during a rally in front of the Stonewall Inn in New York City on June 26, 2015, in support of the Supreme Court's landmark decision guaranteeing nationwide gay marriage rights. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
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The NYPD had resisted previous calls to apologize, but Commissioner James O'Neill chose Thursday to tell a gathering of gay rights advocates that this month's World Pride events in New York for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall marked the right moment.

"What happened should not have happened," O'Neill said. "The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize."

Organizers expect some 4 million people to visit New York later this month for World Pride. New York's parade will be held on June 30.

James Fallarino, spokesman for the group NYC Pride, said he welcomed O'Neill's apologies.

"He represents the institution, and the institution and their violence against our community is one of the reasons why Pride exists," he said. "It's really important that the institution take responsibility for what happened."

Former Commissioner William Bratton refused to apologize three years ago while acknowledging the raid was a "terrible experience."

"An apology, I don't think so. I don't think that's necessary," Bratton said. "The apology is all that's occurred since then."

Seymour Pine, the retired deputy police inspector who led the raid, apologized in 2004 before a New York Historical Society event, the New York Times reported in Pine's 2010 obituary. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York Editing by Bill Berkrot and Matthew Lewis)

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