bar raid

Diana Davies, copyright owned by New York Public Library

bar raid

 

a moment ago

the music was blasting

at ear shattering levels

the dance area was packed

I was checking out this guy

standing across the narrow room

between the dance floor and the bar

suddenly the music died

and the lights started flashing

what was going on?

it wasn’t closing time

I heard a voice say “it’s a raid”

guys started frantically moving all around me

I didn’t know where they were trying to go

“the cops are here” a guy said

I turned and I could see them at the front door

at least two of them

there was no way out

I was 19

drinking age was 21

I had my brother’s old driver’s license

he and I looked a lot alike

people used to think we were twins

he knew I was using it to get into bars

but not gay bars

I put down the drink I was holding

tried to think where I could hide

I saw a door

it opened to a kitchen

an elderly man was washing some glasses

he looked startled

I don’t think he knew what was happening

I told him I was a minor

he didn’t seem to understand
I repeated it in choppy Italian “auitami”

he pointed to a door

he said “tu vai!”

I stepped out into a small yard

the wooden gate had a latch that

opened to an alley

I walked quickly to the street

a police van was pulled up in front

of the bar

the cops were still inside

I crossed the street and stood there waiting

it didn’t take long before the boys in blue

were leading guys out of the bar

and into the back of the van

I wanted to run

but I found myself frozen in that spot

it was like watching a train wreck

I had manage to escape

I wanted to say something

to yell to people passing

“hey, look at what they’re doing — we gotta

do something”

but I couldn’t talk

I remembered that bar in New York

a year and a half before

the Stonewall

that’s what it was called

a riot broke out when cops raided it

we needed a riot that night

it wasn’t going to happen

no one stopped to look

one of the cops slammed the door

shut and they rode off

it took me the longest time to walk away

my body was still shaking

I was angry

not as angry as I was the next morning

when I saw that the newspaper

ran a story about the raid with

the names and addresses of

the men arrested for not having

proper ID

I wasn’t surprised

I was just a faggot

my life didn’t matter

the lives of all those men who

would lose their jobs and

their families

didn’t matter

the cops would get their payoffs

and the politicians would boast

of cracking down on vice

as they did every election

that’s how it was back in 1971 when

America was great