Alex Blaze

Stonewall police officer speaks

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 25, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, The Movement
Tags: 1960s, anniversary, LGBT history, police, raid, riot, stonewall, transgender

Unsurprisingly, one of the police officers involved in the Stonewall raid 40 years ago thinks that their actions were right. Surprisingly, he seemed surprised that anyone would think they were homophobic:

When pressed about the motivation for the raid, Pine, speaking by telephone, said, "I don't think not liking gay people had anything to do with it." Instead, the former member of NYPD's vice and gambling unit listed complaints from the community about the Stonewall Inn that included Mafia connections, dirty drink glasses, and the violation of contemporary dress codes. (Earlier, panelist Garvin mentioned the preponderance of "flame queens" at the establishment.)

While Pine acknowledged that the Stonewall Inn in the West Village was known as a "gay headquarters," he sounded genuinely confused when asked whether any antigay bias existed among police officers on the streets at the time.

"I'm sorry, I didn't get that," said Pine. Audience members, who were present in the studio for the live broadcast, chuckled.

Finally, host Lehrer asked Pine directly, "Do you think that the police were on the side of right?"

"Yes, of course," Pine answered. "When we took the action that we took that night, we were on the side of right. We never would have done something without supervision from the federal authorities and the state authorities. They were involved with this just as well as we were."

Well, the question wasn't whether state and federal authorities were involved, it's whether their decisions were homophobic and wrong. You'd think 40 years would give the guy some perspective, but voilà.

Even if he was just following orders, which is probably true, one would think he'd have the judgment to express an independent thought on a historic event he participated in. He even mentions the presence of people who didn't conform to "contemporary dress codes," and if that isn't anti-queer bias, I don't know what is.

Still, I find it interesting that the radio show hunted down one of the cops involved in the riot. It's a side that we don't hear often enough as we continue to expect the police to share the general values of America when instead they're some of the most authoritarian and conservative people in the country. And with all the tasing that's been going on over the last couple of years that have resulted many deaths, 20 so far in 2009, they're obviously overworked, undertrained, and don't consistently display good judgment.

Considering how the police are still hassling men who seek sex in even secluded places in public and trans women for the crime of walking down the street, I'd say that the only thing we've changed over these 40 years are some of those directives state and federal employees send, not the police themselves.

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Interestingly, I'm just reading an article by Sylvia Rivera about Stonewall. Apparently Inspector Pine was given a new job as head of the morals squad and led the raid on Stonewall immediately after. She quotes him as saying "Those people would never give us any problem, because they had a lot to loose." She also quotes the police during the raid (not specifically attributed to anyone) as walking in and saying "Faggots here, dykes here, and freaks over here," as a part of the process to make sure that everyone was wearing the appropriate gendered clothing.

You're very right that being on the side of state and federal authorities is not the same as being on the side of what's just and right. And if he's going to defend the moral justice of "contemporary dresscode laws," there's no way he can claim not to be enforcing anti-trans oppression.

Isn't it grand when guys like this contradict their past selves and pretend there's no public record?


Could you tell us where to find the article by Sylvia Rivera? I would love to read the rest of it.

Damn, I wanted to use it for a Letter to the Editor, but I don't really have the money or access to get ahold of that book in time for my article. There has to be easier ways for anyone in our community to get access to writings like that when they are so detrimental to understanding our community's history.

Diana Powe | June 26, 2009 7:08 PM

It was really quite remarkable for The Brian Lehrer Show to have located Seymour Pine and had him speak. His apparent disconnect, whether feigned or real, from the nature of his actions that night, are certainly subject to criticism. After all, it's entirely true that Pine seemingly doesn't understand the nature of the group of human beings, all individuals, who were lumped together by society and, by extension, the police as undesirables.

At the same time, we read this assertion:

And with all the tasing that's been going on over the last couple of years that have resulted [in] many deaths, 20 so far in 2009, they're obviously overworked, undertrained, and don't consistently display good judgment.
"They" are all not "consistently display[ing] good judgment." What is the evidence for this sweeping characterization of roughly 700,000 individual sworn officers in the United States (about the population of San Francisco)? It is the deaths associated (association and causality being quite different) with one specific type of use of force, which is characterized as having "resulted [in] many deaths". The FBI reports 14,209,365 arrests in 2007 (the latest full data available) and if we extrapolate from 2009 that there were 50 deaths associated with the use of the Taser that would constitute 1 in every 284,187 arrests.

The intent of this piece was not to talk about Tasers, but it does address bias. The public is completely justified in maintaining a vigilant stance toward law enforcement conduct. There are people wearing a badge today who are criminals. There are also gay and lesbian people who are criminals. The latter says very little about gays and lesbians as a group, just as the "fact" of Taser use "leading" to in-custody deaths says little about the police as a group.

The reason I care about this as I've been subject to stereotyping on two bases. The first is that prior to my retirement I'd spent 27 of my 30 years in law enforcement as a uniformed police officer working the street. The second is that I was the first municipal police officer in Texas to transition genders on the job in late 2000.