Only eight months after the Stonewall uprising, in the early morning of March 8, 1970, police raided the Snake Pit, a gay-run non-Mafia, after-hours bar in the basement of a Greenwich Village apartment building at 215 West 10th Street. The raid was led by Seymour Pine, who had also led the ill-fated raid on the Stonewall.
Fearing similar rioting from the large crowd of patrons, the police arrested 167 people, who were taken nearby to the 6th Police Precinct Station House. Argentinian immigrant Diego Vinales, who was only 23 years old, apparently panicked over the possibility of deportation, tried to escape from the third story of the jail, and was impaled on the iron fence below.
An employee of the Snake Pit commented to Arthur Irving (Arthur Bell) in an article in Gay Power, “I was at the window right after he landed on the spikes. The remarks the cops made after this happened were unbelievable. One cop said to a fireman, ‘You don’t have to hurry, he’s dead, and if he’s not, he’s not going to live long.’ I was with three or four kids when one of the kids heard this who happened to be a friend of Diego’s. He started crying and screaming out. Then the other kids started crying. They saw what was happening and they were shaken. But the remarks kept coming from the cops. They probably thought they were justified. Diego was a faggot, they said. They used the word faggot so many times it was unbelievable.”
Vinales was cut loose along with part of the fence by firemen, taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and survived, but word spread that he was dead or dying. A number of arrested men found an empty police office and started making phone calls to Gay Activists Alliance leaders and to the press. The Daily News became interested in the story. GAA organized a quick response, joined by the Gay Liberation Front, later that afternoon – an angry protest by a crowd numbering around 500 people, who marched from Christopher Park to the police station. They were met by barricades and armed police during a half-hour confrontation.
“Any way you look at it – that boy was PUSHED. We are ALL being pushed.”
A candlelight vigil was also held at St. Vincent’s. This incident, which received much media coverage, is credited with greatly inspiring more LGBT people to become politically active, including many who had not following Stonewall, such as future film historian Vito Russo and future GAA president Morty Manford. It also demonstrated the strength of the recently formed gay rights movement organizations. The success of the protest is credited with influencing GAA in the direction of planning many political confrontations for gay rights, which became known as “zaps.”
The 9th (later 6th) Police Precinct Station House was the first New York City police station house built under the new Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt in 1896-97. It became familiarly known as the “Charles Street Police Station,” and also included a prison and a stable wing. The building ceased to function as a police station in January 1971 after the construction of the new station at 229-235 West 10th Street. The old police station was sold at auction and converted to “Le Gendarme” Apartments in 1977.