How the Stonewall Riots Worked

The End of the Riots
The NYPD was ill-equipped to deal with the riot when it started. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In multiple accounts of the incident, police who were involved express astonished that LGBTQ people responded at all. They were used to gay people living in shame and fear of being exposed, and many saw them as stereotypically effeminate and passive. It was inconceivable to them that LGBTQ people (whom the police often described using derogatory terms like "fairies") would ever stand up for themselves [source: Carter].

Eventually, fire trucks and officers from the 6th Precinct and others arrived, including officers from New York City's Tactical Patrol Force (TPF). They were specifically equipped to deal with riots, and Pine and the officers with him were able to leave the Stonewall Inn. However, the crowd outside had swelled, attracting local residents and LGBTQ people from across New York City who were drawn to the event by phone calls from friends. Estimates of the crowd's size range from 500 to 1,000 or more people [source: The Leadership Conference].

A protracted series of street skirmishes and chases between cops and the crowd lasted a few hours and resulted in property damage and some injuries. The tangled geometry of the neighborhood's streets made it difficult for the police to control the crowd, even after more cops had arrived. Multiple witnesses reported police attacking rioters, who in many cases were simply dancing and singing in the street, with billy clubs.

Eventually, the crowd dispersed and the riot ended. But the feelings of anger in the LGBTQ community and its refusal to accept harassment and oppression in silence did not end.