NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A crowd rallied in front of the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village Monday evening, calling for action on behalf of the victims who were killed in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
The crowd of thousands gathered for the rally at Christopher Street and Waverly Place. Speakers at the event called for an end to homophobia and transphobia and for stronger gun control laws.
As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, many came to the rally with flowers and candles, laying them outside the entrance to the historic Stonewall Inn as they have done since news of the shooting broke out.
Age, sexuality, race and religion did not matter Monday night. Everyone stood in solidarity with a message for Orlando — New York City is with you.
Many in the crowd carried signs reading, “Love Wins” and “Stop the Hate” — repeated messages of hope in this dark time.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo was among the first speakers at the event.
“This is a beautiful sight. This is New York at its best, coming together to speak with one voice,” he said.
Cuomo went on to demand “sensible gun control,” and accused the federal government of doing nothing in the face of mass shooting after mass shooting.
“The frustration at a society that would allow a madman to buy an assault weapon has gone on for too long,” Cuomo said. “We went through it at Sandy Hook. How many people have to die before this federal government comes to its senses?”
Cuomo also emphasized that New York had been a leader with gay rights, and New Yorkers must stand up to such an attack on the LGBT community.
“That is what evil is, and that is hatred, and we all must stand up with one voice,” he said.
He called on the crowd to respond not with a desire for retribution, but with a vow to fight as a force for good.
“Let us heed the words of James Baldwin: ‘Love does not begin and end the way we think it does. Love is a battle. Love is a war.’ And it is a war we cannot lose,” Cuomo said. “Let’s do, my friends, what New York does at its best. What we do at our best is we rise to the occasion, and we show the way forward.”
Cuomo also called on the crowd to gather for the biggest pride parade in history on Sunday, June 26.
“We believe in New York, that an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us,” he said.
Pop star Nick Jonas also addressed the crowd, along with several activists calling for a fight against homophobia and transphobia.
“We must come together to bring a world which is free of violence so we can all live safely,” said Shelby Chestnut, co-director of community organizing and public advocacy for The Anti-Violence Project.
Activists in favor of stronger gun control also spoke at the event.
“What happened in Orlando was a hate crime committed by an American-born male who was an angry, homophobic, wife-abusing wannabe cop – twice interviewed by the FBI,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “And despite all that, it was legal to buy an AR-15 assault rifle.”
Mirna Haidar, who is both Muslim and gender non-conforming, emphasized that Islamophobia is also a serious social problem.
“Yesterday, while we were speaking just here, two individuals yelled, ‘Muslims are the problem. Arrest them all.’ A few days before that, someone yells in my face, ‘Kill all Muslims,’” Haidar said. “Is that the country I seek asylum for?”
And Councilwoman Rosie Mendez (D-2nd), who is openly lesbian, said, “Simply, this is a hate crime.”
“We cannot be silent, because the memories of our 50 LGBT brothers and sisters demand that we speak out,” Mendez said. “It demands that we organize so that no other individual can perpetuate such a heinous crime in the future.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio took the podium late in the program, and specifically mentioned one of the New Yorkers who was killed in the Orlando shooting. Enrique Rios of Brooklyn was a home health aide coordinator, and was visiting friends in Orlando for the weekend.
“We lost Enrique and 49 others. And it was more than an attack on 49 Americans. It was an attack on American values, and it was an attack on New York values. We believe in inclusion. We believe in a society filled with unity and the embrace of all people,” de Blasio said. “We do not accept anyone who would sow division or hatred.”
De Blasio said no leaders who “sow division and hatred” would be accepted in New York, and “that means you, Donald Trump.”
The mayor said New Yorkers would not be bullied into silence by anyone.
“We are all New Yorkers. We are all Americans, and yes, we are Orlando,” de Blasio said.
“We feel pain, and we know we will never replace those who are lost. They will never come back, but we still have so much that reminds us of what we are here to do. We have a rich history, starting right here (at Stonewall in 1969), a right history of constant progress, and constant progressive change in that city,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio’s wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, said federal lawmakers must be put under pressure when it comes to fighting gun violence, treating mental illness, and guaranteeing the rights of all.
“We must show our unbeholden lawmakers that they have two options – get on the right side of history or get pushed aside,” McCray said.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton emphasized at the rally that the NYPD would also work to ensure the rights and safety of all.
“People can be killed. But what they stand for – their values, their convictions and their principles cannot,” Bratton said.
Many rally attendees chanted over Bratton as he spoke.
The rally ended with a reading of the names of each of the 49 victims of the massacre. Cuomo and girlfriend Sandra Lee, along with de Blasio and McCray, all placed flowers at the memorial, and paused to remember the victims.
The crowd came to support those in Orlando, but also to lean on one another.
“To come here and see all of these people to feel the love, that’s what it’s about,” said Nicole Brown of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
As the memorial at Stonewall continued to grow, many became overcome with emotion — breaking down. Mourners could not stop the tears — haunted by the thoughts — it could have been them.
“And so for somebody to walk into a club or bar and murder people; to take away that security; to take away that comfort zone of, ‘You get to be free in this space, no matter how big or small it is’ — to have that taken away is heartbreaking,” said Donald Kemp of Astoria, Queens.
Mahfoud Laziz went to high school in Orlando and was familiar with Pulse.
“Pulse was the first gay club I’ve ever been to in my life, and to see that this is happening is just really sad,” said Laziz, of Harlem.
Laziz went to high school in Orlando with one of the victims — Cory James Connell, 21. Like so many at the Greenwich Village rally, Laziz’s sadness was mixed with anger.
“Violence is not a solution to anything,” he said. “It will never be.”
A gunman identified as Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more. FBI Director James Comey said before the shooting, Comey called 911 and claimed solidarity with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
As WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported, Bratton earlier in the day said the tool ISIS is now using is inspired mass murder. He declared that the Orlando event was certainly inspired by ISIS, noting that the FBI is checking on whether it was enabled or even directed.
Bratton added that the pace of attempted actions against New York City has increased over the past two years.
“But we’ll be committed to defending every aspect of this city, every component of the vitality of this city, and that includes the community that this month is celebrating so many of the gains that they have made over these last number of years, but a community that is still very susceptible to the issue of fear,” Bratton said.
Meanwhile, the spire at One World Trade Center glowed with the colors of the rainbow and City Hall was covered in lights and pride flags in a show of solidarity.
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