March 8, 1970:
Many people don’t realize it but the raids on gay bars by the New York City Police Department didn’t end with the Stonewall riots in the summer of 1969. In fact the raids continued, virtually uninterrupted with some continuing on into the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
On March 8th. 1970 at about 5:00 am in the morning the NYPD once again led by Officer Seymore Pine raided the Snake Pit, an after-hours bar at 211 West 10th. Street in Greenwich Village. Pine showed up with a fleet of police wagons, and arrested all 167 customers mostly all gay men, staff, and owners and took them to the station house, which violated police policy.
One patron, Diego Vinales, panicked. An immigrant from Argentina who was in the country illegally, he feared what would happen to him in the police station and tried to escape by jumping out a second story window. He landed on a fence below, its 14-inch spikes piercing his leg and pelvis. He was not only critically wounded, but was also charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. As paramedics attended to Vinales, a cop told a fireman, “You don’t have to hurry, he’s dead, and if he’s not, he’s not going to live long,”
“You don’t have to hurry, he’s dead, and if he’s not, he’s not going to live long.”
Viñales was eventually cut loose and taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital. he survived after spending weeks in the hospital and when released moved back to Argentina.
The Gay Activist Alliance immediately organized a protest for later that night. A pamphlet publicizing the protest read, “Any way you look at it, Diego Vinales was pushed. We are all being pushed. A march on the Sixth Precinct will take place tonight, March 8, at 9 pm, gathering at Sheridan Square. Anyone who calls himself a human being, who has the guts to stand up to this horror, join us.”
A silent vigil will occur immediately following the demonstration.” Nearly 500 people showed up for an angry and loud but peaceful protest protest to the precinct station on Charles Street, followed by a vigil at St. Vincent’s hospital where Vinales lay in critical condition.
Rep. Edward Koch, who would later become the Mayor of NYC accused NYPD Commissioner Howard Leary of green-lighting the resumption of raids, harassment, and illegal arrests against the gay community. Both Leary and Seymour Pine was reassigned to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front quickly assembled a protest march, the results of which demonstrated the strength of the recently formed gay rights organizations and inspired more people to become politically active setting the stage for the first Christopher Street Liberation Day (Pride) March 3 months later on the first anniversary of Stonewall Riots.
*WARNING: Graphic image below.
17 thoughts on “Forgotten Gay History – March 8, 1970: The NYC Snake Pit Bar Raid. 167 Arrested, 1 Critically Wounded”
Our history is not always proud, and this is the perfect documentation for future generations. Forgetting the abuses of the past means it will likely repeat itself.
True. However kids today want to forget “ancient” history and pretend that everything is rainbows and light because we have “marriage” equality. hah.
I never heard about this story at the then after-hors gay bar called The Snake Pit from 1970 and it surely was a mafia-run establishment. It sure is a notable one, and points directly to the vicious ignorance, homophobia and outright hate of homosexuals at that time, and particularly to the NYPD ! Gays were largely invisible in those hostile days and tried hard not to draw attention to themselves, for fear of being outed and having their lives ruined. Stonewall was only one year before, in June 1969, and little had changed for the status of gay men and women in society. That very year, in 1970, saw the first mobilized and organized gay rights march on the streets of Greenwich Village, know as: “The Christopher Street Liberation Movement.” It would take another 7 years, in 1977, for gays to move forward and fight nationally against that notorious homophobe and drunk on religion dreg Anita Bryant to launch a campaign of homosexual visibility and demand fair and equal treatment. Her “Save the Children” campaign was a guise under religious freedom to stop homosexuals from standing-up and being counted in those dark and ignorant times.
Thank you for this article about this lesser known event in our history.
“In fact the raids continued, virtually uninterrupted with some continuing on into the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.” I came out in mid 1975 and I never once was involved in, saw or heard of a police raid on a NYC gay bar. Where is the documentation for this claim?
You obviouly missed the police raids of such clubas as Alex in Wonderland, Crisco’s was raided a few times, and other bars/discos. The documentation was I was there. Good enough?
Well no reason to get defensive. No I don’t remember either of those places being raided – and “other bars/discos” means nothing. “I was there” is not documentation.
I was not being defensive sorry if it came out that way. Unfortunately I was there is the only real documentation that exists from that time period and before since many of these events were not reported in major media outlets and many local gay media outlets are not digitized and are lost.
Wasn’t Alex in Wonderland an after hours club?
Yes. I was there when it was raided once in 1981.
well lucky you. i was involved in a police raid oin the Eagle in New York City in 2011 shortly after the New York State Senate had passed gay marriage. and despite all the lies that the police spokesman told the new york times, i am the person who contacted the times and got the story placed the next day. when i was on the roof deck the police came in with flashloights shining them in people’s faces and making everyone empty their pocikets. they were out thinking they were going to have some fun bullying a bunch of fags just like they had been doing for years. and i was a long standging boardmember of the stonewall democrats which was the larges and most influential gay rights group in the northeast and all the politicians came through every election cycle seeking our endorsements and for years i had been demanding that politicians stand against the police’s never ending raids on our nightliife establishments. the first time i experienced the police raids first hand was in 2006. i went out on a wednesday night to get a dirnk in chelsea and the bar was closed by the city, so i went to the next bar, and then the next one and then the next one. the police had raided and closed all 7 gay bars in chelsea and shut them all for over a week as well as a gay owned gym, which i read about in the gay city news when it came out the next day or two,. and then they stared going after our pride celebrations., one pride they swooped in and basically closed a hole bunch of nightclubs on friday afternoon using the bullshit charge that couldnt hold upo in court for 5 minutes. this was their favorite tactic because no matter how baseless their claim, it didn’t matter one bit because the court didn’t open until monday do the whole weekend’s revenue was lost. they used to do that to the roxy it seemed like almost every week and low and behold, eventually the roxy went out of business. and they were driving one establishment after the next out of businss which is not as bad as throwing us all in jail but was absolutely destroying our community. and so this pride weekend, it was 2008, mayor bloomberg, who was apparently even more anti-nightlife than guiliani if the policiing during his administration is any indication, could not figure out why the city was losing so many gay tourists. so ironically, he hired this pr firm to come to the city and do some big expose on how awesome gay nightlife was in new york city. and dumbass that he was he forgot to tell the police to leave out the nightclubs where they were going to do the filming of the expose during their annual pride raids and so they had to cancel the whole thing because of course they shut the clubs where they were going to do the filming, dumbasses. anyway, I was even more furious than usual and made a huge stick about it to every politician that came to use for an endorsement and got them to agree to sign onto a letter to the police commissioner. and i had 50 or so city and state politicians signed onto it and was ready to go but i should have kept it to about 20, because once christine quinn’s office got wind of it all those politians suddenly and very mysteriously backed down for some reason. and she being a lesbian couild always take the gay vote for granted while stabbing us in the back and of course she was going to do whatever was politically expedient for mayor bloomberg and that’s what she did. and i was so happy that her political career ended with a failed run for mayor because i was not a fan. but when those police showed up at the eagle bar in 2011, the wonderful thing was that i was actually there for it and i caught them red handed committing illegal search and seizure and attacking out community once again on pride weekend and having fun walking all over a bunch of fags and i was not having it. and i got in that police captains face and told him every politician i was going to contact. and how i had already contacted the whole stonewall board and one of the board members had already gotten agreement for them to put a story in the new york times about it and to call me for a telephone interview the very next day. and i was at a pride celebreation at hudson terrace when i got the call … it was a rooftop club and i was hitting on some guy i really liked and had to tell him that i had to take a call from the new york times about the raid the prior night so i needed to go to the bathroom because it was the only place quiet enough for the reporter to hear me. but the night before, i made very clear to that police captain that i was taking down his badge number and the badge number of every police officer in that bar and that i was filing a lawsuit against the city for discrimination and that i was going after everyone of their badges and i didn’t care if it took me 10 years or 20 years i was going to get them. unless of course they left. and there was a successful lawsuit against the police in atlanta for doing a raid on them a few years earlier which in only learned about afterward. but whether i could have been successful or not, one thing that was pretty clear was that this police captain was going to have a whole lot of phone calls coming in and he was going to have a whole lot of explaining to do and sure, he could lie and lie but it was not going to be very enjoyable and he could see pretty clearly i was not some dumb dumb, but instead exactly to sort of person who could and would do this and really make his life hell. and after staring him down for more than an hour, with his entire squadron standing around me and all those patrons and staff looking on, he made the smart choice, and did exactly what i told him to do and took his police officers and left. and otherwise they would have shut that bar. and it never occured to me until years later just what a laughing stock that police captain must have become, becuase here i was in head to tow leather gear a cigar smoking harness wearing fag out of some tom of finland comic book and he back down from me in front of everybody while i was dressed like that and the raids did stop after that, and the times article sure did help even though the police spokesperson just lied and lied about everything that night – what esle could he do? – but it did occur to me years later than probably there was no other police captain who ever wanted to face such public humiliation after that so maybe that’s why those raids finally did stop in 2011 as far as i can recall. and if you think i am just making all this up then you must think i have a pretty good imagination. and if i am, then i should have stayed dancing with pedro at the hudson terrace instead of going to my imaginary interview cause i always wanted him and i never ever got him.
His assertion that raids on gay bars continued into the 70s and 80s is completely, utterly and boldly false and untrue. I’m 62. Came out in 73. I probably spent 4 nights a week going to bars in the city after being brought to my first gay bar in spring 73. Never once was a bar raided in my time, nor did I ever hear any mention of a raid. Ever. Period.
If there were raids it was likely due to drug use or public sex; not because it was a gay bar.
I was there. And I got there early!
you are a self-hating gay if you really think that we are all just a bunch of liars and denying the stories of what we have lived through is just hateful.
This story seems to have been lost through time. It occurred in 1970, and in those dark years gays lived in constant fear with shame and guilt never really far off.The young generation today has no idea what it was like back then and what people had to endure to simply congregate and have a drink, socialize and just feel safe and comfortable. Those o us
that grew up in the 70’s had it a little better as young men than those in the previous decade of the 1960’s,before Stonewall, but not much ! Society remained highly homophobic and hostile towards gays. The Anita Bryant crusade of 1977 could have never occurred if people were not ignorant and openly fearful and hateful of homosexual men like that. As gays remained largely invisible and had no real voice or power to draw attention to their plight and unjust victimization,her “Save Our Children” campaign gained steam. It ultimately back-fired in her face,as gays began to mobilize;stand-up and raise their hands to be counted and demand fair and equal treatment. The rest is history ! I wish PBS would air a documentary on this event…”The Sake Pit Raid.”Most gays today have forgotten or never heard of it. It would open peoples eyes,gay and straight alike,to the horrors of those dark, corrupt and persecuted times for a minority that was only guilty of not being heterosexual !
Is anyone planning a commemorative vigil at that site this March 8th for the 50th anniversary of that horrendous raid ? It is not clear if the victim,Diego Vinales,a 23 year old Argentine citizen in New York City on an expired Visa actually died in the hospital of his injuries or recovered ? If anyone reading this knows the true outcome,please respond here.Today,he would be 73. I want to organize a vigil at that Greenwich Village site,the spot where the “Snakepit” after-hours gay bar once was in the basement at: 211 W.10th Street and 7th Avenue South,this March 8th.(Sunday),starting at noon.Please bring flowers,candles,posters,cards,etc.If that young and handsome man survived this travesty in 1970,God bless him. If not,God rest his soul.Either way,what he endured that dark day is beyond deplorable and the LGBT community has come so far in those 50 years…a half century ! We must never forget ! Spread the word and if anyone knows if Diego is alive and well,.please ask him to meet us there…in his honor !