Even though the Stonewall Riots happened a year earlier change did not happen overnight for the lesbian and gay community in NYC especially when it came to the NYPD. Yes, the gay community was a bit more organized but the police continued to raid gay bars and clubs, nearly all of which continued to be mob-owned.
At this time in history, the community found itself fighting on two fronts:
- Against direct harassment by the police.
- 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 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 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 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 the 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.
Just 3 months earlier 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,”
Viñales was eventually taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital. He survived after spending weeks in the hospital and when released moved back to Argentina.