Hundreds Gather Uptown to Mourn the Orlando Tragedy

New Yorkers have come together to mourn and speak out against homophobia, islamophobia and domestic terrorism following the shooting.

Community members join hands at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church to pray for Orlando shooting victims.

Story and video by Christian Hernandez

All over the world, people are coming together to mourn the lives lost following the massacre in Orlando on Sunday morning. This mass shooting, the 176th of the year in the U.S., has special significance for Harlem and Washington Heights, since so many of those who died — and survived — were Hispanic.

Over the past few days, organizers held memorials uptown to share their sadness and speak out against homophobia, islamophobia, and domestic terrorism following Orlando. Many agreed that preventing future shootings must be a top priority.

“Access to weapons is prevalent and so easy that there is only going to be continuum of these incidents,” said Lorial Crowder, who joined a vigil on June 13 in Bennett Park in Washington Heights. The event served as a more accessible option for uptown and Bronx residents who couldn’t travel to thevigil at The Stonewall Inn that same night.

Hearing word of the shooting kept Crowder up at night.“This isn’t just about homophobia, it’s not just about islamophobia; this is also about the congress taking a stand to make sure this doesn’t continue,” said Crowder. “There has to be a point where people say ‘this has to stop’ — how many vigils can we have?”

A crowd gathers in Washington Heights’ Bennett Park as local elected officials, religious leaders and community members lead candlelight vigil.

At the Washington Heights memorial, led by New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat and New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, people stood in silence as community leaders read out loud the names of the victims. By the time the last name was called, the sun had set and candles and streetlamps became the only source of light.

The silence lingered following the reading of the victims’ names. A community leader stepped up and broke the silence by asking each person to wish peace upon one another. “Peace be with you,” echoed from all directions within the crowd.

A day later, organizers held an interfaith vigil in front of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church on West 134th Street. Birds sang as a crowd started to form on the sidewalk. Over time the group, numbering close to a hundred, made its way into the street as more people joined in. Community members and religious leaders of numerous faiths took the moment to pray and speak about the incident in Orlando.

Tod Roulette, a member of Integrity Harlem, an LGBT ministry at St. Philip’s, described news of the attack as numbing. “I was so angry, so hurt. I just gave a plea for people to stop using religion for hate and to kill,” Roulette said. “The only time [people] go to their politicians is to stand against something, to stand against other people, and I would like them to stand up for life and start petitions against assault weapons.”

Patrick Williams, interim pastor of St. Philip’s, took joy in the turnout of the vigil and stressed that communities should advocate for “real gun legislation.”

“From here, it’s about trying to maintain this network,” said Williams. “So often we come together to things like this and then we go our separate ways [but] we have to utilize the networks as a means of mobilizing the change.”

Added Coyote Lee, a member of East Coast Inspirational Singers and who, at the vigil, sang Andra Day’s Rise Up as a tribute for the victims: “The first thing we do so close after an event like this is just recognize [those affected], let them know that they are not invisible and that we are doing what we can to make a change.”