5,000 attend vigil at The Stonewall

| 14 Jun 2016 | 12:49

Nearly 5,000 people attended a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting on Christopher Street last night, according to police.

A large crowd silently gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn before the vigil officially started. Several people were crying and holding onto others for support.

Grace Bannasch, a 24-year-old from Western Massachusetts, made the 4-hour drive by herself to attend because, she said, “this is where we go when things are bad.”

“Growing up in an LGBT community makes me realize how important an LGBT community is,” she said.

People somberly milled about inside the Christopher Street Park across the street where someone had written the names and the ages of the 49 victims on the ground in chalk. Mourners carefully tiptoed to put flowers and candles at the foot of the park’s “Gay Liberation” statue.

Charles Davis, a Brooklyn resident, said that many of his friends did not come because they were either “too emotional or scared to be here.”

The sullen attitude of the event changed when the vigil actually started. Before Governor Andrew Cuomo took the stage, the names of all openly gay members of local government were read. This tangible evidence of the LGBT community’s impact in government ignited the crowd.

Speakers from all sides of the LGBT community came forth to express their grief and to call for ending discrimination and easy access to firearms. Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke, so did Nick Jonas and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez.

Dr. Sheldon Teperman, the chief trauma surgeon at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, gave a speech that held the crowd in silence. He commented on the endless cycle of gun violence he sees within his operating room and described in unflinching detail the killing power of an automatic rifle.

Speakers who tried to politicize the issue, including de Blasio, were met with frustrated yells from the crowd to stop and say the names of the victims or “get off script.”

Police Commissioner William Bratton, one the event’s last speakers, barely reached the ears of the restless crowd. His presence set the group into a frenzy. He attempted to talk about increased policing for the Gay Pride Parade later this month but he struggled to speak over cries of “end police brutality” and “white supremacy.” One man, clad in black, climbed atop a bus pole to shout his criticisms of the NYPD.

Recognizing the uneasy anger of the crowd, the organizers immediately commenced the vigil. As speakers read the names and ages of each of the victims a solemn hush fell over the area. The combined light of thousands of cellphone flashlights, candles and lighters set the street aglow.

Each name was met with either “rest in power” or, in Spanish, “presente.” Muffled gasps and winces broke throughout the throng of people when speakers read the names of Akyra Murray and Jason Benjamin Josaphat, teenagers who were in the club.

The vigil ended as silently as it started. The crowd quietly dispersed and groups of people began to hug and comfort each other. While most of the people headed home, several moved back toward the Stonewall to continue the tribute.