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 crowd of patrons, the police arrested 167 people, who were taken nearby to the 6th Police Precinct Station House. Argentinian immigrant Diego Vinales apparently panicked over the possibility of deportation, tried to escape from the second story of the jail, and was impaled on the iron fence below.
According to Arthur Bell in Dancing the Gay Lib Blues: A Year in the Homosexual Liberation Movement, one witness later commented, “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 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, taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and survived, but word spread that he was dead or dying. The Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front organized a quick response – an angry protest by a crowd numbering around 500 people, who marched from Christopher Park to the police station.
“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. It also demonstrated the strength of the recently formed gay rights movement organizations. Mattachine New York fought the arrests of those detained, which led to virtually all of the charges being dismissed.
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.