June 6 (UPI) -- Commissioner James P. O'Neill apologized Thursday on the New York Police Department's behalf for officers' actions in 1969 clash with gay patrons during a raid on the Stonewall Inn.
The routine police raid at the gay bar in Greenwich Village on June 28,1969, escalated into a riot that sparked the Gay Pride Movement in New York City.
With June being World Pride Month, and the city producing gay pride events to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969, O'Neill said it was an important time to apologize.
"I think it would be irresponsible of me as we go through World Pride Month not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969," O'Neill said. "I do know what happened should not have happened. 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," he added to applause. "I vow to the LGBTQ community that this would never happen in the NYPD in 2019. We have, and we do, embrace all New Yorkers."
O'Neill made the formal apology at police headquarters during a safety briefing related to Pride month.
Police said the 1969 raid occurred because the bar violated liquor laws. Such raids targeting gay bars were routine at the time because the New York State Liquor Authority often refused to grant liquor licenses to bars catering to gay customers. But the 1969 Stonewall riots erupted after patrons, tired of the harassment, began to fight back with some throwing empty beer bottles at police vehicles.
Pressure has recently mounted for the department to formally apologize for the raid.
Heritage of Pride said in a statement Thursday it had voted unanimously to demand the department apologize. A non-profit organization, Heritage of Pride, produces the annual events that celebrate the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexuality and all others) community.
A day earlier, Corey Johnson, a city council speaker, who is gay, told 1010 WINS radio that the police department should apologize.
"I think it would be an important step toward further healing and reconciliation, and recognizing what happened in that crucial moment," Johnson said.