When Stonewall happened that fateful night on June 27, 1969 nobody expected it. Just a typical payoff to the cops kind of night, with a slight irregularity to it; like the day George Floyd was killed, a typical kill a black guy kind of day with a little irregularity to it.
The killing of George Floyd was not that unusual by itself. Racist cop called in on a minor infraction treating a black suspect like he’s some kind of animal. Four Boys in Blue cuffing a black man for ”possibly” passing a counterfeit $20 in a local bodega, roughly pushing him across the street to the back side of their cruiser, then throwing him to the ground where he starts bleeding. The Alpha cop steps on his neck while the other two drop to their knees, not on the ground, no, on top of his back with legs off the ground to achieve full pressure. The “Good Cop” stands there watching with impunity while passersby pass on by and a casual young girl iPhones the “dry lynching. For over eight minutes they taunt him to get up and get in the car, while he pleads for breath, for his life, and ultimately cries out for his “Mama”. The slight irregularity is the casual young girl with the iPhone. Their impunity is so ingrained that they don’t even see that she’s filming their homicide. They don’t see it. It’s just another Kill a Black Guy kind of day. But this time the irregularity made it to the Front Page, and we had all reached the Tipping Point. Six weeks of Sheltering in Place, with an in-charge mad man attempting to not see what was right before everybody’s eyes, like the Emperor with no clothes, had us all on the edge a bit. It gave us time to see more clearly that not only was the Emperor naked, but the entire Justice System was as nakedly exposed as the Emperor.
The riot in the Stonewall bar was the result of another irregularity. A crooked cop just doing what crooked cops had been doing for the last few decades, and a black girl in the right place at the right time. Most of the gay bars in Manhattan with few exceptions were frequented by gay guys. This was one of those exceptions. Stonewall was in the West Village on Christopher Street which was strictly guys, while the rest of the West Village was mostly gals. There was a mixed crowd this particular Friday night
The correct cop procedure was to come into a gay bar for their regularly scheduled payoffs during the week when it wasn’t too crowded. That way you didn’t disturb business too much. To be clear, the cop’s payoff wasn’t supposed to interfere with the mob’s business. The monthly payoff was par for all the gay bars, as every gay bar in Manhattan payed off the cops and the mob. When my Father’s bar was a “straight” bar the payoffs were quarterly, when it became a gay bar the payoffs were monthly. The cops made their presence in the neighborhood known and were able to instill just the right amount of fear and intimidation to keep everybody on board.. Also, the cops who came into the bar, were part of a larger syndicate of cops and not necessarily connected to the same precinct that any particular bar was in.
Friday night June 27, 1969, the cops from the Greenwich Village Precinct that the Stonewall Bar was in, were “sick and tired” of the uptown cops coming into their precinct and shaking down their bars. They were going to do it themselves, and they were going to go in on a busy Friday night.
So, in come the local Boys in Blue, making their way through the partying crowd to the back room. A black bull dyke in the back room saw them coming. She saw them coming and she was up to here with it. That was it, no more of this bullshit. No more paying off the cops just so she could have a drink and hang out with her friends. She didn’t quite realize the other half of the equation; that the Mob actually owned the joint and the barkeeps were window dressing that managed the transfer of money. She jumped up and said, I’m paraphrasing, “we’re not going to take it anymore”. That started it and the whole place erupted.
The local precinct cops couldn’t get out of the bar but were able to make it to the bathroom where they barricaded themselves in, while the patrons barricaded the front windows and doors. It was a riot inside Stonewall and a riot outside on the streets. As news of the riot spread throughout Greenwich Village more and more of the mostly gay guys, came out, physically came out into the streets and surrounded the bar. By the time the paddy wagon arrived it was too late, and what should have been a local event turned into the event of the century. The paddy wagon cops dallied in their response in order to “punish” the precinct cops who were where they shouldn’t be on a night when they shouldn’t be. Talk about turf wars.
Meanwhile, a little old man with a cheap fedora who usually plays bocce at the bocce ball court in Greenwich Village is sitting somewhere in a corner of Stonewall wishing he was home. Every gay bar in Manhattan had a little old Italian man, in a cheap fedora sitting somewhere in a corner watching out for the interest of the mob; because the cops and the mob were in this together and the mob wasn’t as visible as the cops, so they needed a little back up. The mob owned the bar which paid the cops so that the cops didn’t close them down, because it was an ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) regulation that you could close down a bar if there was a gay person in it. Didn’t matter if he was in a three-piece suit with Gucci shoes and a Dior necktie or swishy wrist and a silk scarf. Gay: close it down. So, we have the ABC, the NYPD and the Sicilian Mob, all collaborating to get a piece of the action, all at the expense of a persecuted and reviled minority. Sound familiar? By noon that very day, the NYC Homophile Youth Movement – HYMN, with the help of the Village Voice newspaper, which just happened to be at the other end of the block, published the now classic flyer, “GET THE MAFIA AND THE COPS OUT OF THE NEW YORK CITY BARS”.
Stonewall opened that very night. The clean-up fixers crew came in and rebuilt the bar, restocked with their untaxed watered-down booze and filled the cigarette machine with their untaxed cigarettes bootlegged from Virginia, which you could buy uptown once a week on 45th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue at the back of Grand Central Station. I did, every Friday. Everybody who was anybody was in on the fix and got a little piece of the action. That’s Trickle-Down Economics in the Carnegie Hall Culture of Corruption.
Well, Stonewall reopened but the anger wasn’t quelled. A conglomeration of “anti-Vietnam War, pro-Black, pro-Women, pro-Hippy, anti-Capitalist left-wing politics,” or the entire counter-culture of the late 1960’s, met one month later on July 24th and formed the Gay Liberation Front. They started meeting and talking and organizing and by the end of the year the little known homophile movement turned into the first Gay Liberation Day Parade on the streets of Greenwich Village. We now have GAY PRIDE day every year on the whole planet.
Black Lives Matter has been around since 2013, has an organization in place and is not going to stop until real reform happens. The roots of Democratic Capitalism are based on the commodification of all people, with white people in charge and black people at their beck and call. The economic success of Capitalism is based on the enslavement of an entire race, and the roots of Democracy ensured the dehumanization of that race, which elevated the enforcers to a position of superiority. That superiority has traveled through the centuries to where we are today. Racial injustice is built into the system. It’s “systematic” and requires systematic change.
It started for me in my father’s bar, which led me to understand what happened at the Stonewall bar, and to see clearly today why the death of George Floyd is leading Black Lives Matter to take on the issues that the whole system of Democratic Capitalism is based on. Slavery, greed, corruption and immunity for those enforcing this rule of disorder. The entire system is built on a base of sand that’s collapsing right before our very eyes. Climate change, Covid-19, swine flu on it’s way, apocalyptic events becoming a daily occurrence, global right wing fascism, state surveillance, are all a wake-up calls from the living breathing earth that we all live on. If we don’t fix it, it will fix us. Evolve or die.