Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stonewall riot police reports available online

This month, OutHistory.org features a new online exhibit that was made possible by the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

The Stonewall riots, a series of spontaneous demonstrations that erupted after police raided a Greenwich Village gay bar and became the founding symbol of the modern gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights movement, erupted during the wee hours of 28 June 1969. In honor of the fortieth anniversary of this event, Jonathan Ned Katz, the pioneering scholar of LGBT history, has created an online exhibit that features digital images and transcriptions of nine New York City Police Department (NYPD) records documenting the protests.

With the assistance of historian David Carter, Katz obtained copies of seven of the documents by submitting a FOIL request to the NYPD in May 2009. When responding to his request, the NYPD opted not to redact the names of the people who were arrested in connection with the Stonewall riots. As Katz notes, these records identify protesters and police officers whose involvement has not been documented in other sources and suggest avenues for further research.

They also highlight how the NYPD's attitudes have changed as time has passed (or, perhaps, because time has passed): the other two documents at the center of the exhibit were released in 1988 to another researcher who filed a FOIL request (and ultimately sued the NYPD), and at that time, the NYPD blacked out the names of arrestees.

Although I visit OutHistory.org from time to time, I learned about the addition of these records to the site via a New York Times City Room blog post highlighting the new exhibit. This post also includes a brief interview with David Carter, whose 2004 account of Stonewall and its immediate aftermath is widely regarded as definitive.

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