AME, city officials rally for Charleston victims at St. Albans Park

By Tom Momberg

Hundreds of African Methodist Episcopal churchgoers and members of communities from around the city and Long Island marched down Merrick Boulevard Saturday to mourn the nine lives lost in a race-provoked massacre at an AME Church in Charleston, S.C., concluding the day with a vigil at St. Albans Park.

Emanuel AME churchgoers confronted the man who shot nine members of the church’s Bible study June 17 to express forgiveness, and they came back together to mourn and rebuild over the weekend. The AME community around the country and the world poured out support for the families of the victims. And in New York, city officials, residents and the AME community rallied around that strength, lighting nine candles, one for each victim.

People sang common civil rights songs like “We Shall Overcome” as they rallied. They carried signs citing Bible verses, several of which were hashtagged, #IamAME. A Long Island AME pastor yelled out, “We assemble today to say, hate: You have already lost.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials joined in the rallying cry for the victims, voincing a need for tougher gun laws and potentially increased security around houses of worship.

“Brothers and sisters, this was an act of domestic terrorism. It was an act of racist terrorism,” de Blasio said during the vigil. “This is a moment of reckoning. Now it is our time to say, this is that ‘never-again’ moment.”

The mayor held conference calls with the Commission of Religious Leaders of NYC and the Clergy Advisory Council just last week to start discussing those security needs and how they play into existing counter-terrorism efforts.

As the country’s attention turns to racism and gun violence, the parishioners in Queens said they would just do as Charleston and the families of the victims have done: Try and find room to forgive the shooter.

Many of AME’s churchgoers said they were not concerned for their safety at church, but were there to pray for the victims of a single act of hate..

Rev. Henry Belin of the First AME Church: Bethel in Harlem, a friend of one of the shooter’s victims, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, said it would be a struggle to move on, but that AME has the strength to forgive. He said that however devastating the Charleston tragedy was, the strong organization and power of AME supersedes any hatred in the world with love.

“We have all been affected, but you know, we are a people who understand what it means to go through struggles. One thing we’ve learned about struggle is that we cannot remain silent,” Belin said. “Power concedes nothing without struggle.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.