Site of the Snake Pit & Police Raid (March 1970)
Just a few blocks away from the Stonewall Inn, another bar that catered to gay patrons in Greenwich Village called the Snake Pit became the site of another police raid just in the spring of 1970. Only months after the landmark raid at the Stonewall Inn, a mass arrest of over one hundred patrons at the Snake Pit led to increased political activism of the LGBT community in Greenwich Village and beyond.
Backstory and Context
The Snake Pit, a bar that catered to gay patrons located in a basement space in Greenwich Village, was unique. At a time when many gay bars were operated with the support of the Mafia, the Snake Pit was a gay-run establishment and its patrons were quick to say it was legally run, although it did operate after hours.
NYPD's longstanding practice of raiding gay bars declined following the Stonewall riots, but they did not end. In fact, the raids continued into the 1970s and even the 1980s. Many of the raids were led by the same officer, Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, the same officer who led the raid at the Stonewall. Raids on Mafia-run bars like the Stonewall were unusual because leaders in these organized crime syndicates had formidable allies and were known to bribe police officers. Bars that catered to the gay community and weren't run by the Mafia were far easier and more frequent targets of police raids. In many cases, police often uses a check on liquor licenses as a pretext for the raid and then arrested patrons once inside the bar.
In March of 1970, just nine months after the Stonewall raid, Pine led officers in a raid on the Snake Pit. Pine didn't want a repeat of the uprising of the previous year, so his officers took a drastic step: all 167 men in the bar were arrested. The patrons were taken to the 6th precinct, which at the time was just a block and a half away. Inside the precinct, one of the arrested men, a 23-year old Argentinian named Diego Vinales, panicked at the thought of being deported and jumped out of a second floor window. He landed on an iron fence and was impaled on 14-inch spikes, which tore through his legs and pelvis. Vinales would survive his injuries after spending three months in the hospital. However, in the immediate aftermath of the raid, rumors spread that Vinales was dead.
The response to the raid and to the rumors regarding Vinales was quick. Both the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gay Liberation Front led a protest the following afternoon that involved roughly 500 people who marched from Christopher Park to the police station. A candlelight vigil was also held at St. Vincent's hospital, where Vinales lay seriously injured. Eventually all of the disorderly conduct charges (a common charge faced by patrons of gay bars raided by police) were dismissed, aside from Vinales's, who was charged with resisting arrest.
The raid on the Snake Pit and the publicity surrounding it led to greater numbers of the city's LGBT community becoming politically active. In the aftermath of the raid, Pine was reassigned to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Years later, Pine apologized for his role in raiding gay bars. The fate of Diego Vinales, whose first visit to a gay bar in America was the night of his arrest, is unknown. He reportedly went back to Argentina, but there is no information regarding his life after leaving the United States.
Homosexuals Hold Protest in 'Village' After Raid Nets 167, New York Times . March 9th 1970. Accessed October 24th 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/1970/03/09/archives/homosexuals-hold-protest-in-village-after-raid-nets-167.html.
Snake Pit , NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project . Accessed October 24th 2020. https://www.nyclgbtsites.org/site/the-snake-pit/.
Assuncao , Muri . Forgotten but Pivotal Moment in Gay Rights Movement Took Place 50 Years ago in NYC, MSN . March 8th 2020. Accessed October 24th 2020. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/forgotten-but-pivotal-moment-in-gay-rights-movement-took-place-50-years-ago-in-nyc/ar-BB10T7f3.