The Northern Westchester Examiner

Hundreds Gather in Peekskill for Vigil to Remember Orlando Victims

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Community members held signs and lit candles at Peekskill’s vigil Thursday night to remember the 49 victims of last weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando, Fla.
Community members held signs and lit candles at Peekskill’s vigil Thursday night to remember the 49 victims of last weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando, Fla.

Several hundred residents gathered with friends and neighbors alongside total strangers early Thursday evening for a prayer vigil at Peekskill’s Riverfront Green to find comfort and healing following last weekend’s horrific shooting in Orlando.

Speakers during the roughly hour-long event along with many in the crowd stressed how the vigil served as a critical outlet to deal with their grief and anger as the nation grapples with another mass shooting.

Clergy and local officials and activists also urged those in attendance to step up efforts to end gun violence, racism, homophobia and xenophobia, all of which likely played a role in the shooting of more than 100 people, including the killing of 49 at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub on June 19.

Rev. Mary Glasspool, the assistant bishop of the Episcopalian Diocese of New York, its first openly lesbian bishop who was one of the featured speakers, said so many of the victims of violence in the U.S. have been part of groups that have historically experienced the most prejudice.

She recalled the one-year anniversary of the massacre of nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, S.C. which was also part of the pattern of “demonizing the strangers at the gate.”

“Prayer alone is not enough,” Glasspool said. “Now is the time to reach out in grace and in power, in brotherhood and sisterhood to the larger community.

“Let the Muslim congregations and people around you know that you refuse to categorize their whole community and people by the action of this one man. Let the LGBT community around you, and especially the great number of gay and lesbian people in our midst, know that they are beloved members of every community. Find some way to put your anguish into action. Understand that we are all part of the human race, and from the foundation of our humanity, let us stand up together against violence anywhere, against anyone.”

Zead Ramadan, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he in the past 15 years since 9/11, nearly an entire generation of Muslim youngsters have grown up having faced shame and bullying.

Ramadan made it clear that the extremists do not speak for him, Muslims in America or the 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe.
“We’re proud Americans and you guys should understand that,” he said. “We’re all in this together. We’re an American family and let’s not let any one person or any talking head on TV tell you otherwise.”

Peekskill Mayor Frank Catalina said that no matter who anyone chooses to love, where they come from or their religious or ethnic background, everyone in the United States must be able to live freely without fear of violence or hatred.

He said regardless of where any individual stood on the issues of immigration, gun control, combating terrorism or LGBT issues, the prejudice that fueled last weekend’s senseless violence must end.

“God help us if this country ever ceases to be the shining beacon of freedom that the rest of the world yearns to be in,” Catalina said. “This massacre shows us more plainly than ever that hatred and bigotry can have an unbelievable consequence.”

Gun control activist Rose Rowland urged those who are tired of the death toll piling up from gun violence with no solutions to step up and press state and federal legislators to support sensible gun control laws.

She called for passage of legislation that would prevent those on the terrorist watch list from buying guns and background checks on all private sales of firearms, including through the Internet.

The ceremony featured the reading of each of the 49 victims of the shooting by area clergy, prayer, the singing of “Amazing Grace” and the lighting of candles as dusk neared. At the close of the ceremony, many in the crowd sang while heading to the edge of the Hudson River with lighted candles.

Some said they felt the need to be with others and wanting to show solidarity with those who lost friends and loved ones.

“I feel really affected by what happened and feeling very emotional,” said Lisa Sabin of Cold Spring who came with her children. “So coming together with people that I know and don’t know is really importantm, and also to show my kids that even if we’re fearful, coming together is what we need to do.”

Linda Stellwegen, a Peekskill native who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., said it was important to attend with her children and grandchildren because she wants to make sure they are free of prejudice.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black, white, green, yellow, purple, gay, straight, whatever, we can’t put up with this nonsense and everyone has to get the word out to each other,” Stellwegen said.




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