A Jewish cop whose actions in 1969 helped advance rights for gay people in the U.S. — albeit inadvertently — has died at the age of 91.
Seymour Pine was the deputy police inspector who led the raid on the Greenwich Village gay bar the Stonewall Inn in 1969. As The New York Times wrote in today’s Pine obit, the moment — and the legendary riots that followed — “helped start the gay liberation movement.” Stonewall, gay historian David Carter told the Times, “is to the gay movement what the fall of the Bastille is to the unleashing of the French Revolution.”
Pine apologized repeatedly for his role in the raid. In a now-famous 2004 talk at the New York Historical Society, according to the Villager newspaper, “Pine admitted that the police of the era were biased against gays. “They certainly were prejudiced. There was no question about that,” he said. “But they had no idea about what gay people were about.”
The Villager reported that Pine said there were two reasons why police raided gay clubs: First, many of them were controlled by organized crime. “We weren’t concerned about gays. We were concerned about the Mafia,” he said. Second, collaring gays was a way for officers to pad arrest records.
At least one other Jew played a pivotal role in the riots that night, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall uprising looked like “violent chaos to then-reporter Howard Smith, who spotted activity from his Village Voice office and walked into the first night’s riot.
Standing with police as crowds surged toward the bar, Smith took shelter inside, invited by Pine. “We were both Jewish, and liked each other, but I still thought the crowd might kill us,” Smith said. Smith, who told the Chronicle he spent a night under siege inside the bar, credits Pine with ensuring that no rioters were killed. He later wrote a classic Voice cover story about the experience.
The Times said Pine is survived by two sons, a brother and sister, and seven grandchildren.