Once again Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights became the gathering spot for elected officials and other mourners to express grief at the tragic loss of 49 lives in the mass shooting at a gay bar in Orlando.
The square, in one of the world’s most ethnically rich neighborhoods, has turned into a place where people come to disown the hatred that fuels irrational acts and embrace tolerance after shattering events.
City Councilman Danny Dromm joined lawmakers from around the city and Ali Najmi, a Queens Muslim leader, to condemn the one-man assault on the LGBT community. Jackson Heights is where Dromm, a tireless gay rights activist, launched the movement in Queens.
“I don’t want this incident to divide us,” a tearful Dromm told the Sunday evening vigil, referring to the Muslim shooter. “Love conquers hate.”
Queens, with its vast immigrant network, was the birthplace of Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old killer and son of Afghan immigrants. The family soon moved to Westbury, L.I., and several years later to Florida.
The worst terror attack since Sept. 11 occurred during Pride Month for the LGBT community and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. At least 53 people who had been celebrating Latin Night at the Pulse nightclub were wounded—many of them young Latinos like those who died. A Hispanic woman originally from Ozone Park was among the fatalities.
Armed with his assault weapon, Mateen targeted three separate groups, including his own. But he failed to sever the bonds between Queens’ gays, Muslims and Hispanics who bring their sorrows and causes to Diversity Plaza.
Whether he was motivated by ISIS or simply a lone wolf who flirted with his own gay impulses may never be known. What is clear is that the massacre was a act of deadly extremism—not necessarily a twisted religious rite.
Queens leaders have stood behind the borough’s LGBT members, denouncing bigotry and calling for inclusion in the strongest terms. Najmi said the gay community has been the Muslims’ strongest allies.
As the most diverse county in the nation, Queens has again shown that acceptance—even in the darkest times—is the most effective weapon against hatred. People from every part in the world co-exist within our borders and blend their sometimes dissonant values into a borough-wide culture that works.
But this equilibrium could be at risk unless stricter gun laws are passed and the national blame game on ethnic groups does not end.
We are devastated by the savage attack but will not be bowed by one man’s evil journey.