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50 years on, New York police apologize for Stonewall riots

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New York (AFP)

New York's police chief apologized Thursday for the first time for a crackdown on the city's gay community during the notorious Stonewall riots, winning praise from LGBTQ activists ahead of the 50th anniversary of violence considered to have given rise to the Gay Pride movement.

"I do know what happened should not have happened," said police chief James O'Neill. "The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple. The actions were discriminatory and oppressive and for that I apologize."

The June 1969 riots, sparked by repeated police raids on the Stonewall Inn -- a well-known gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village -- proved to be a turning point in the LGBTQ community's struggle for civil rights.

The police chief made the comments during a briefing on safety measures for the city's Pride Month, the annual celebration for the city's diverse LGBTQ community. His remarks triggered a long round of applause.

In 2017, O'Neil, like his predecessor William Bratton, said an apology over police behavior at the outset of the Stonewall violence was not necessary.

But a number of people have called in recent days for the police department to apologize, including the speaker of the city council, Corey Johnson, who is himself gay, and the organizers of Gay Pride.

"I think it would be an important step toward further healing and reconciliation," Johnson said in a radio interview Wednesday.

- 'Stonewall Forever' -

After Thursday's comments from the police chief, Johnson tweeted: "We appreciate this apology. Thank you @NYPDONeill. This is so wonderful to hear during Pride."

On June 28, 1969, members of the gay community protested against a raid on the Stonewall Inn on New York's Christopher Street.

The LGBTQ community was fed up with repeated police raids on their gathering places under the pretext that these establishments had violated liquor laws.

Hundreds gathered outside the Stonewall Inn that night, some throwing bottles and stones to shouts of "Gay Power."

Police reinforcements were called in and a dozen people were arrested, kicking off a week of rioting but also marking the genesis of the modern gay rights movement.

New York is staging a series of events and rallies to mark the anniversary this month, culminating on June 30 with WorldPride, billed as the largest gathering of LGBTQ people in the world.

More than three million people are expected to attend those events in New York, police said.

The Democrats running the most populous US city are eager to show the Big Apple is still a pioneer in defending LGBTQ rights.

Last month Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would erect a statue to two transgender women who participated in the protests and fought for LGBTQ rights. De Blasio said it would be the first such statue in the world.

The city is also working to designate as historic moments sites that are significant to the history of New York's gay community, such as the former home of the novelist James Baldwin and Caffe Cino, the city's first gay theater.

In 2016 then president Barack Obama declared the Stonewall Inn to be a national historic landmark, the first such monument of its kind honoring LGBTQ rights.

A website called Stonewall Forever was recently brought online, featuring photos, letters and witnesses' audio accounts of the riots. It also asks visitors to download their own recollections of those seminal days.

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