SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Around 200 people attended a memorial service Tuesday for the victims of last week’s shootings in New Zealand.
Religious, community and political leaders spoke at the event, which was hosted by the Islamic Association of West Virginia at its worship center.
The memorial service came four days after 50 people died in the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The alleged gunman was a white supremacist who wrote a manifesto on his views and also livestreamed the attack.
“I wish we weren’t here tonight. Not for this,” said Rabbi Victor Urecki of B’nai Jacob Synagogue. “I pray we don’t have to come back here for something like this, but sadly, I’m afraid with the rise of hate globally, we will.”
Service speakers touched on the similarities between last week’s attack, the 2015 shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church and last October’s shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The suspects in each attack held white supremacist views.
“We all came in on a different boat, but guess what? Right now we are all on the same boat, and so we need to care for each other instead of demonizing and attacking each other. We are not each other’s enemy,” said Sue Barazi, the association’s vice president.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said condemnation of last week’s attack and others are not enough.
“There are not good people on both sides,” he said, referencing a remark President Donald Trump made following the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. “There is only one side to hate, and that side seeks to make children of God who happen to be a little different from us seem somewhat less than human, and we know that leads to more senseless violence and loss of life.”
Pushkin’s remarks came after a legislative session in which Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, compared the LGBTQ community to the Ku Klux Klan and a display on the state Republican Party’s “Republicans Take the Rotunda” event featured an anti-Muslim poster and literature.
Pushkin, the only state lawmaker to speak, said he wished other legislators could have heard Tuesday’s message.
“People cannot continue to perpetuate hate and bigotry against Muslims, against Jews, LGBTQ people or any other marginalized group to tear people apart,” Barazi said. “Government leaders cannot continue to make Muslims, Jews, brown-skinned people the bogeyman (or) the scary monster just so they can gain political position or whatever they go after.”
Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin also spoke at Tuesday’s event, as did Joseph Cohen, the executive director of the state American Civil Liberties Union chapter. Gubernatorial candidate Stephen Smith spoke via video message.
“You know me, I will always be with you,” Goodwin said to applause. “And while we’re here to share our pain and lean on one another for strength, let me share with you I am very grateful for those with the character to be here with all of us today.”
Goodwin said the city will confront racism and bigotry.
“I won’t be vague about it,” she said. “I will work to protect everyone in our community — Muslims, blacks, Jews, immigrants, every single person. Peace be with them. And I will stand tall and I will stand with you. Each and every one of you.”
Rev. John Fennell of Blessed Sacrament Parish said Christian and Jewish texts teach followers not to be afraid, a message he hopes all attendees take to heart.
“Every Sunday, we stand up in our church and say we believe in one God who created everything and everyone. Friends, enemies, peace-loving people, terrorists. We all come from one God,” he said.
“As we own the truth about ourselves, we gain the opportunity to be more open, more inclusive, more honest, more humble and more loving to all the other people created by our God.”