Charleston shooting victims mourned at Westport vigil
Published 5:58 am, Tuesday, June 23, 2015
They gathered Monday evening on the front lawn of Saugatuck Congregational Church, but their hearts and minds were on a place of mourning 800 miles to the south.
It was a show of solidarity in the wake of the mass shooting last week in Charleston, S.C., where nine members of the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church were gunned down during a Bible study session.
“I wanted to be with people with similar feelings,” said Evan Levinson, who attended the vigil. “I’m feeling despair after what’s happened in South Carolina and in Sandy Hook, especially since there’s lots of talk about gun control in the news, but nothing seems to change.”
“I’m here because I could not be here,” said Rozanne Gates. “I’m glad the town is doing something,” she added. “I feel so helpless, but I believe visibility is important and just showing up is extraordinarily important.”
“Places of worship should be safe from fear,” Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue of Westport told the 125 people at the vigil.
He said that despite their different faiths or traditions, the vigil was a sign of support for those mourning their loved ones South Carolina. What happened there, he said, was an act that showed total disregard for life.
“We are holding a peaceful gathering on the grounds of a church — a hallowed place within our community where we all feel safe and included,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe. “Sadly, we are here because that statement cannot be made with certainty elsewhere in this country.”
He said that “in recent years, we have joined together too often to remember, mourn and pay our respects to those who were simply living their lives who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
“We need to pass laws so that this senseless gun violence ends,” said Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.
The Rev. Alison Patton, Saugatuck Congregational Church pastor, asked everyone to place their hands on their chests “to mark this moment” and to “welcome the spirit of God.” She later asked everyone to join hands as they sang several verses of “We Shall Overcome.”
Nine candles, one for each of those killed in the Charleston church, were also lit.
The Rev. Debra Haffner of the Westport Unitarian Church read a list of the victims, saying that besides the Rev. Clementa Pinkney, the Emmanuel A.M.E. minister as well as a South Carolina state senator, those killed included a librarian, church sexton, college counselor, war veteran. speech therapist and barber.
The hour-long vigil was organized by the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston and TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multi-culturalism) Westport.
Harold Bailey Jr., chairman of TEAM Westport, gave a brief history of the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, also known locally as “Mother Emmanuel,” saying it is the oldest AME church south of the Mason/Dixon line. He noted the congregation’s members have a history of social activism.
“We need a relentless commitment to address the issues of race,” he said, referring to the 21-year-old white man charged with the shooting, who investigators say appeared to have been obsessed with white supremacy.
At one point Patton asked individuals to call out their feelings. “Enough is enough!” said one man. “Let us always remember what we feel now,” said a woman accompanied by young children.
“Leave this place with the resolve to do the hard work, to begin the hard conversations,” said Patton. “Let us do that good work together.”