Standing-Room-Only Crowd Seeks
Meaning In Violent Deaths Of 7 Men
By LIBBY CUDMORE • for www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – At the end of the Community Candlelight Vigil, the Rev. Cynthia Walton-Leavitt, pastor of Oneonta’s “Red Door” Presbyterian Church, implored those in attendance to acknowledge their neighbors. “In my church, we do what’s called the ‘Passing of the Peace’,” she said. “Let’s do that here today.”
Everyone – there was standing room only in the Temple Beth El on Chestnut Street – stood and, before they filed out, shook hands and introduced themselves to those around them. “Acknowledging those beside us is the first step to saying ‘I see you’,” said the minister.
The vigil was convened to mourn the deaths of seven men killed by gun violence nationwide last week. Their names – Lorne Ahrens, Philando Castile, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Alton Sterling, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa – were read aloud by Tom Heitz and Delanor Davis.
“It’s not the size of the candle,” Heitz said of the one large candle, surrounded by seven smaller ones. “But the warmth and the brightness of the light.”
Oneonta Common Council member Michelle Osterhoudt, Fourth Ward, representing the NAACP, read a passage from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.”
“It hasn’t been a month since we came out to gather for Orlando,” she said. “And yet, here we are. But we are here today for love. It’s the only thing that’s going to get us through this.”
Mayor Gary Herzig praised his city for its acceptance of diversity, and praised Oneonta’s Police Department. “We’re fortunate we have a police chief who gets it,” he said. “He holds his officers to high standards, and I have great confidence in him.”
He also implored people not to stand divided. “Standing up for black people does not mean you’re against white people,” he said. “And standing up for police doesn’t make you anti-black.”
OPD Chief Dennis Nayor emphasized the work that good police must do to earn and keep the public’s trust. “Because of the small percentage of those police who have done wrong, the rest of us must work extra hard to rebuild that trust,” he said. “We must remember those who have lost their lives to gun violence, and work to make the world a safer place. Only when this happens can we truly consider ourselves an advanced society.”
DJ Wooden sang Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” with some singing along in the audience. And Helena Brown, who is singing this summer with the Glimmerglass Festival as Rebecca Nurse in “The Crucible,” drew thunderous applause for her rendition of the African-American spiritual, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”
Joanne Fisher, also a member of the NAACP, said that the group will begin conversations with the community and the police.
“I believe we must look past our differences and focus on our commonalities,” said Nayor. “We’re all humans, and our focus must be on improving conditions for all.”