“If Not Now, When?” Vigil Held to Denounce Racism
August 16, 2017
As published by The Manhattan Times, on August 15, 2017.
They aren’t going away.
A large contingent of community members gathered at Bennett Park in Washington Heights on Monday evening, August 14, for a rally against racism and xenophopia – and they pledged to gather as often as was necessary.
The site has served in the past as a gathering place for residents, including in June 2016 to commemorate the mass shooting in Orlando and again in November 2015 after the attacks in Paris and Beirut.
“We must stand up and fight oppression, bigotry and racism wherever and whenever we see it,” wrote Elizabeth Lorris Ritter in a message inviting residents to attend the vigil.
She quoted Jewish religious leader Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
The event, organized by a host of advocacy groups including Community Board 12, the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights (NMCIR), the People’s Theatre Project, the Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change and the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan, in the wake of the actions by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, was designed to bring together local residents to show solidarity against hate.
The unrest in Virginia hospitalized 19 people and killed three individuals. Activist Heather Heyer died after a car slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, and Berke Bates and H. Jay Cullen, two state troopers who died in a helicopter crash as they monitored the situation.
Several elected officials joined the Bennett Park vigil, including Congressman Adriano Espaillat, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, State Senator Marisol Alcantara, State Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa, City Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez, and Deputy Manhattan Borough President Aldrin Bonilla.
“Unfortunately, we can’t promise you that this is going to be the last vigil,” said Rodríguez at the event. “But we have to come together to demand that we need to be a society of love and not a society of hate.”
“New York stands strong against white supremacy,” added Schneiderman. “Our diversity is our greatest strength and we won’t allow anyone to turn that strength against us.”