Friday, September 02, 2005

Days of mourning - Part 5: The Vigil

On Thursday, September 6th, the day of the vigil, then-Mayor Rudolph Guliani offered a $10,000 reward for information on Eddie’s attackers. This was in addition to the more than $3,000 pledged by community organizations and leaders. The NYPD had called to ask how many people we were expecting at the vigil and I ventured to guess fifty to a hundred (thinking back to a Queens vigil in 2000 in honor of Steen Fenrich who was also viciously murdered). They said that they would send some cars and security detail to make sure that everything went ok and asked for a chance to speak to the crowd (earlier in the week the 115th precinct had called to facilitate permits for the vigil).

A man who identified himself as the cameraman for one of the local news affiliates of the three national TV networks called and asked if I could send him a photo of Eddie. When I told him that the family had allowed me to carry his photograph but not to share it with media, he shot back and said that the channel would not cover the event unless we gave them the photo in advance. I reiterated that he would have to come if he wanted to see the picture. He asked why someone would put out a press release out if they didn’t want to work along with media. I informed him that we had never put out a press release and that if he was calling it was because someone might have seen the flyers hanging all over the neighborhood.
The plan was to wait until nightfall and light candles, then begin walking from 80th and Roosevelt Avenue at the Cositas Ricas bakery, down 77th Street, make a right and then finish in front of the sidewalk where Eddie was attacked. Coming three days after Eddie had passed away, I felt guilty for not having cried yet. But the vigil kept my mind occupied even though it seemed to have taken a life of its own.
At 9:30pm there were some people already standing outside Cositas Ricas and Friend’s Tavern (which is next to it). Marlene Forero and her friends brought the candles, and helped to light them up for people. And then more and more people started arriving.

New York City was just five days away from a primary election and, despite telling campaign representatives that they would not be able to speak, I was surprised and touched to see Mayoral Candidates Alan Hevesi and Fernando Ferrer join us. Also at the vigil were State Congressman Joseph Crowley, State Senator Tom Duane, Councilmembers Christine Quinn and Margarita Lopez, term-limited Councilmember John Sabini and the two candidates who were trying to replace him, Jimmy Van Bramer and Helen Sears.

All of them and about another 400 or 500 people, including representatives of the different organizations, took candles and followed the procession. Most touchingly, Eddie’s cousin, Monica, approached me before we began to walk and told me she was moved to tears. She said that the Garzons would be proud and that she would make sure that they knew how beautiful the event had been. A group of Eddie’s friends also joined us.

As unplanned as things were, the fact that the family asked me to hold Eddie’s photograph from the press, seemed to increase the interest of covering the vigil. As we crossed 37th Avenue and 77th Street, where Eddie had stared down at the people inside the parked car three weeks earlier, even I was taken aback by the number of television vans. The vigil was the lead story in all of the 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock news. So, even if I had kept my promise to the family and not shared Eddie’s photo, my ultimate goal of raising awareness about the crime was more than met.

The police distributed flyers with an image of the car model that was thought to be similar to the red Honda civic that had sped away from the scene. They also asked all the neighbors in the surrounding apartment buildings who had open their doors to see what the commotion was to report anything they might have seen.

Some things did not run as planned. Members of a group affiliated with the community activist who had complained earlier about not being included among the vigil endorsers made sure that their banner was up front, sometimes even standing in front of Eddie’s cousin and I, especially when they noticed all those television cameras. It shouldn’t have surprised me then that once I placed Eddie’s photo on a fence in front of the sidewalk where he was beaten, the group member tried to tie their banner right next to it. The memory still stings to this date. The aforementioned community activist must have noticed my reaction because he quickly moved to have the banner removed.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t done. Maritza Martinez, then Co-Chair of the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, led an impromptu address to the crowd that gathered at the end of the vigil route. I spoke briefly and finally felt tears running down my face as I thanked Monica for being there. I had asked the Reverend Luis Barrios to join us to close the vigil with a prayer and he moved many with his words:

We have to create a way to continue teaching the community that there is a diversity that must be respected and that this diversity goes further than just ethnicity, race or gender. There has to be respect, an acceptance of what it is to be a person. We have to go past the ‘I respect’ discourse and grab the bull by the horns. We have to crate a curriculum and a sensibility that goes from the Board of Education to the television…When are we going to develop a society that is going to learn how to celebrate respect and the diversity that God gave us? As a priest, it’s painful, but I have to recognize that one of the most powerful institutions to deal with this reality of homophobia in society is the Church. And the Church is not taking responsibility... Lord, we recognize that we still have difficulty accepting the diversity of your creation. We’re asking you in a special prayer to lift up Eddie and to bring peace to his family and friends. Help us to understand that we have to make a society that is willing to celebrate that diversity." (words taken from articles about the vigil in LGNY Latino and El Diario La Prensa and The Queens Courier).

Other religious leaders such as the Reverend Pat Baumgardner were also with us.

The Reverend’s words should have closed the vigil but, out of my left eye, I noticed movement as the aforementioned community activist was pushing one of the political leaders closer to the microphone disregarding our requests. All of a sudden, all the other political leaders and candidates started making a bee-line to the podium. I had to personally put myself in between the microphone and the political leader and signal that the vigil was over (not to worry, not one to miss an opportunity, the aforementioned community activist eventually was able to hook his political leader up with the family during the middle of the funeral mass later in the week).

While all this was happening and as the Reverend Barrios spoke, there were also a group of people in who seemed to have arrived late with placards and signs shouting something. Initially I thought it was an anti-gay group. It turned out to be a bunch of Manhattanites upset that the vigil had been as subdued as it was. “Where’s the anger, where is the hate!” they shouted.

In the midst of all the sadness, at the end of it all, I truly felt we had done Eddie proud. I truly felt that there might be a chance for his killers to be caught. It was obvious that from Governor George Pataki to Mayor Rudy Guiliani on down, people had indeed shown attention to the case and there is no doubt in my mind that an increase in NYPD investigative resources would be devoted to resolving the crime.

But then came September 11, 2001, primary election day in New York City, which found me passing campaign literature for my friend Jimmy Van Bramer in the early morning to people on their way to vote. And then I over-heard “Not to worry, it’s just a small plane, just like the one that hit the Empire State Building a few years back.”

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