Vice squads–police units devoted to “cleaning up” undesirable parts of urban life–routinely raided the bars frequented by LGBTQ people. Laws against people of the same sex dancing together or wearing clothing made for the opposite sex were used as justification to arrest patrons. By the 1960s in New York City, the mafia owned many of these establishments and its members would bribe officers in order to avoid fines. Sometimes the arrangement meant that patrons would be forewarned of a pending raid in time to change their clothing and stop dancing. That wasn’t true during the early morning hours of June 28 1969, when the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.
When they arrived at Stonewall, the police locked the doors so that no one could escape as they conducted arrests. As certain patrons were released, they joined a large crowd that had been gathering outside the bar. Those chosen for arrest started resisting the police officers with the encouragement of the jeering crowd. Violence broke out and the crowd overwhelmed police, who were forced to call in reinforcements. The conflict lasted into the next day as more and more people joined the riots from around the Village as word spread.
The Stonewall Rebellion marked a turning point for the LGBTQ community, demonstrating that LGBTQ people could and would fight against injustice, and serving as inspiration for many who would later run for office.