Seymour Pine, the deputy police inspector who led the raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, on a hot summer night in 1969 — a moment that helped start the gay liberation movement — died Thursday at an assisted-living center in Whippany, N.J. He was 91.
His death was confirmed by his son Daniel.
Inspector Pine, who later apologized for his role in the raid, was commander of the New York Police Department’s vice squad for Lower Manhattan when he led eight officers into the Stonewall Inn, an illegal club frequented by cross-dressers, just after midnight on June 28, 1969.
Although the ostensible reason for the raid was to crack down on prostitution and other organized-crime activities, it was common at the time for the police to raid gay bars and arrest cross-dressers and harass customers.
The club, on Christopher Street near Seventh Avenue South, was owned by members of the Mafia. Inspector Pine later said he conducted the raid on orders from superiors.
About 200 people were inside. When the officers ordered them to line up and show identification, some refused. Several cross-dressers refused to submit to anatomical inspections. Word of the raid filtered into the street, and soon hundreds of protesters gathered outside, shouting “gay power” and calling the police “pigs.”
The turning point came when a lesbian fought with officers as she was pushed into a patrol car. The crowd rushed the officers, who retreated into the club. Several people ripped out a parking meter and used it as a battering ram; others tried to set fire to the club. It took police reinforcements an hour and a half to clear the street.
It was the start of several nights of rioting, during which the police used force to disperse crowds that sometimes numbered in the thousands. Fewer than three dozen protesters were arrested, but hundreds were detained and released.
“The Stonewall uprising is the signal event in American gay and lesbian civil rights history because it transformed a small movement that existed prior to that night into a mass movement,” David Carter, author of “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution” (2004), said in an interview. “It is to the gay movement what the fall of the Bastille is to the unleashing of the French Revolution.”
In 2004, Inspector Pine spoke during a discussion of the Stonewall uprising at the New-York Historical Society. At the time of the raid, he said, the police “certainly were prejudiced” against gays, “but had no idea about what gay people were about.”
The department regularly raided gay clubs for two reasons, he said. First, he insisted, many clubs were controlled by organized crime; second, arresting gay people was a way for officers to improve their arrest numbers. “They were easy arrests,” he said. “They never gave you any trouble” — at least until that night.
When someone in the audience said Inspector Pine should apologize for the raid, he did.
“There’s been a stereotype that Seymour Pine was a homophobe,” Mr. Carter said. “He had some of the typical hang-ups and preconceived ideas of the time, but I think he was strictly following orders, not personal prejudice against gay people.”
Seymour Pine was born in Manhattan on July 21, 1919, one of four children of Nathan and Anne Pine. Besides his son Daniel, he is survived by another son, Charles; a brother, Arnold; a sister, Connie Katz; and seven grandchildren. His wife of 45 years, the former Judith Handler, died in 1987.
Soon after graduating from Brooklyn College in 1941, he joined the police force, but within months he was serving in the Army, first in Africa and later in Europe. He returned to the department after the war, rising to deputy inspector in the late 1960s. He retired in 1976.
“He once told me,” Mr. Carter said, “ ‘If what I did helped gay people, then I’m glad.’ ”