In memory of six
By Antoine Craigwell
Following a bright sunny day, the late evening showers that fell on Sunday, Oct 3 seemed as if the gods could have been shedding tears at the lives lost or it could have been the tears of the five from September and the one from July who were crying. Instead, the weatherman forecasted, the showers heralded more rain for the next day.
As the rain steadily and gently fell, in the spill over light from the spotlights on the Washington Monument struggling to illumine the pitch black in the park and in the shadows, an estimated 3,000 people, gathered in New York City’s Washington Square Park for a vigil to remember the six young men whose lives were cut short. Those who stood in the rain were students from the surrounding New York University and others who came because the six deaths touched them in some special way or they came simply to show their solidarity. Despite the rain, the crowd silent under umbrellas, like a tent city, and those without, hunched their shoulders; stood resolutely, patiently straining to hear Glennda Testone, executive director of the LGBT Community Center, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Governor David Patterson. Even though the six deaths were by their own hands, it was as if each was guided by the tormentors he lived with each day until he could take it no more.
Strangely, the crowd was attentive, everyone straining to hear who was speaking and what was being said. A volunteer said that the organizers couldn’t get a permit for amplification, which forced the speakers to shout their messages and to keep it short. Only those who were close heard what was said. Those who were not close enough, kept silent, hoping to hear, grabbing snatches of words, recognizable phrases, or asking the person beside them in sotto voce, what was said.
Gov. Patterson, briefly mentioned his own experience of having suffered bullies as a legally blind African-American student in school before reciting of the names of the six young men: 15-year-old Justin Aaberg of Anoka, Minnesota; 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana; 13-year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California; and 19-year-old Raymond Chase of Monticello, New York, all who hung themselves; along with 13-year-old Asher Brown of Cypress, Texas, who shot himself, and 18-year-old Tyler Clementi of Ridgewood, New Jersey, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in NYC. He also mentioned that he had just signed anti-bullying legislation into law in New York State, which he said, gave school officials the authority to deal effectively with those in schools or other places of learning who are wont to disrupt and prevent others from obtaining an education. Most importantly, he said, the law protected those who were the victims of harassment, humiliation, or whose lives were made unbearable because they didn’t seem to fit in.
Then there was a moment of silence, when everyone raised their fluorescent glow sticks and battery-lit faux candles in the air, creating an image of variegated colors held aloft in the darkness, and at the end, although it sounded funeral, one of the vigil’s organizers in a plaintive voice started singing “Somewhere, over the rainbow…” to which everyone joined in. After the song, as if the emotion evoked could not be contained, spontaneous chants erupted, “Civil rights,” and “L-G-B-T, Equality”.
Undeterred, as the rain continued falling, no one moved; it was as if
the crowd was waiting for something more. Finally, when there was a sense that the vigil was over, the organizers handed out chalk to those who wanted to write or scribble how they felt on any available surface. On the rain slicked paving stones, the wet and glistening stone benches, and even on the side of the white masonry of the Monument, people wrote messages. Many may who scrawled or wrote graffiti styled, as expressions of how they felt and to any who would read – each a prayer to stop the bullying and the hate, reach out for help, and save lives, perhaps hoped that the six could see the messages.