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July 18, 1970: Despite the Stonewall Riots NYPD Continues Bar Raids, Mafia Gets More Brazen

Despite the fact that the Stonewall Riots happened a year earlier change did not happen overnight, especially when it came to the NYPD. Yes, the gay community was more organized but police continued to raid gay bars and clubs, nearly all of which continued to be mob-owned. The gay community actually found itself fighting on two fronts: 1) against direct harassment by the police, and 2) from getting caught in the crossfire between organized crime and corrupt police officials.

Gay activist Randy Wicker described what happened at The Barn, an after-hours club in the early morning hours of July 18, 1970. in his column in GAY, the nation’s first weekly gay newspaper:

Barn Baloney Bared: New York Police raided the Barn Sunday, July 18th, issued summonses to nine employees and sent dozens of patrons scrambling out of the back rooms and into the streets. Management mafiosi reportedly took to the streets also shouting “gay power” and urging the patrons to return apparently hoping to provoke a confrontation a-la-Stonewall. The Police left shortly thereafter and most of the patrons re-entered the club.

“These raids shouldn’t be conducted at all,” Marty Robinson, GAA (Gay Activists Alliance) Political Affairs Committee chairman, declared. “We don’t like these management people running around the street shouting ‘gay power’ to further their own ends. Gay people should not simply be pawns in a power struggle between the police and underworld elements. A conference with Police Commissioner Leary has been arranged to discuss this matter more fully.

And they did meet exactly one month later.  

Robinson  led a delegation to meet with  to discuss the problem of the mafia-owned bars as well as how the police treated gay people.

As GAY reported on August 17, 1970:

Jim Owles, president of GAA, told Commissioner Leary that the homosexual community is achieving a new awareness of itself and its problems, partly as a result of its witnessing other minority group struggles and partly as a result of problem. with the police that the gay community continually faces. He charged that raids on after-hours gay bars were made at hours on weekend nights, with police by their mere presence intimidating scores of patrons. “They hang around, they check I.D .’s at random. they indulge in verbal abuse, they station one man at the door and a patrol car out front for several minutes.”

Recently at the Barn (an after-hours bar), Owles contended, a police raid created a very heated atmosphere and near violence. “We’re here to ask you what can be done. Your actions make it difficult for a civil rights organization such as ours that is trying to reform the establishment. When we work against a background of such police tactics, they tend to undermine our efforts and to drive the gay community into the hands of extremists,” Owles charged. Nevertheless, he explained, “we are not asking the police to close down after-hours bars.” He said GAA’s concern was that homosexual patrons should be left alone when police take action against such establishments.”

…Robinson pointed out that the syndicate owns legitimate bars, too. He said “We’re here about a social condition — syndicate control of gay bars and payoffs to police. The bars are run shabbily and are a bad influence on the young kids just coming out who patronize these places and who already don’t know what to make of themselves because of the way society receives them. Such gay bars shouldn’t be tolerated in these years. We can’t live with it. We want to see legitimate bars where there’s no guy at the door with a cigar in his face saying to kids, ‘Welcome to your life- this is it, your subculture, your subterranean existence.’ Commissioner, our desire now is that anyone who’s honest can get into business and stay in without a shakedown, and can get police protection. But we must have police protection for this to be possible.”

…Reinforcing Robinson’s earlier remarks, Owles told the police that successful bars not opened by the syndicate were quickly taken over by it. “In an era when homosexuals are seeking their civil rights, it’s a blatant insult to have to go to a bar taken over by the syndicate. This situation will blow up sooner or later,” he warned. “Hence GAA is pressing for an investigation of alleged collusion between the State Liquor Authority and organized crime. Meanwhile, whatever struggles there are between the police and the syndicate, we simply ask that homosexual patrons not be used as pawns in between.”

Leary countered that if the GAA or anyone in the gay community had specific evidence of official corruption, they should bring it to the police. Owles countered that this was a problem for the NYPD to solve, not his. “As far as a police investigation is concerned,” he said, “it would be most difficult for most homosexuals to appear in court to help you. Actual lives would be in danger.”

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, journalist and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story,

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