BY TESS McRAE
Though the shots fired in a Charleston church last week were still ringing in the ears of Americans around the country, the Queens community came together to begin the healing process.
All last weekend, vigils, rallies and prayer services were held in honor of the Charleston Nine, the group of men and women who were murdered in cold blood in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“Charleston in particular has exposed an additional area of weakness in our country, what Mayor de Blasio aptly called, ‘the intersection of racism and guns,’” Borough President Melinda Katz said in a written statement.
“Charleston has compelled us as one nation to hold up a mirror, to reevaluate the progress we’ve made and take a hard look at the tremendous yet necessary work that remains.”
The shooting offered a bitter taste of poetic irony as it took place during New York State Gun Violence Awareness Month. The timing was not lost on Katz, who, along with several elected officials, including Public Advocate Letitia James, hosted a vigil outside the Queens Museum where the building emitted a soft orange glow – the color of gun prevention. However extreme the Charleston case, community leaders cited the shooting as an example, not only of a need for restrictions on firearms, but also the underlying racism that still occurs within the nation today.
“With the confederate flag still flying on the grounds of the South Carolina State Captiol, we clearly have not dealt with the legacy of slavery and racism that persists in our country,” Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) said. “As we come together to remember and honor the victims of the Charleston shooting, we show that in our nation’s most diverse city, equality and fellowship will triumph over hate.”
Perhaps the most emotional event was held at St. Albans Park and the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica. The area, historically black, played host to hundreds of guests from around the country who came to join in prayer and remembrance with Rev. Floyd Flake and other Southeast Queens clergy members. It was the antithesis of what Dylan Roof – the 21-year-old shooter – wanted; a group of all races coming together to celebrate the lives that were lost.
“It is disheartening that there is still so much hatred and anger aimed at the black community in 2015,” Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said in a written statement. “With every step we take forward to break down racial barriers, there always seems to be an incident such as this that causes us to take two steps back.
This clear hate crime targeted individuals who were gathering for prayer in a place of peace that has been a sanctuary for many black Christians for nearly two centuries.”
Citywide, black leaders called residents to action.
“The blood of nine people murdered in Charleston is on the hands of the rulers of this country,” Carl Dix, founder of the Revolutionary Community Party and Stop Mass Incarceration Network, said. “Whether this guy acted alone or not, he was acting within a climate that has been deliberately whipped up. White supremacy has been ingrained in the fabric of America from its very beginning.”