New Yorkers gather in grief at the Stonewall Inn
NEW YORK (AP) — New Yorkers gathered in Manhattan on Sunday at a historic bar to grieve the deaths of at least 50 people in a Florida gay nightclub as the city's mayor and police authorities promised increased security would be noticeable citywide in coming days to guard against any threats.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is on "high alert," although there were no credible threats against it.
"You'll see a lot of additional police presence on the streets of the city," de Blasio said.
The boost in security occurred after gunman Omar Mateen was fatally shot by police early Sunday at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, after holding hostages for hours. Authorities have blamed him for the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Early Sunday night, Stonewall Inn was filled with a lively crowd and festooned with rainbow-colored crepe decorations marking June as a gay pride month, awaiting the New York's huge Fifth Avenue parade in two weeks.
Outside the bar, several hundred people packed the street in front of the bar, chanting, "No hate, no hate! More love, more love!" after hearing from a Muslim emigrant from Lebanon who called herself "gender nonconformist."
"I came to this country for safety," said Mirna Haidar. Instead, she's been persecuted for her sexuality and her identity as an emigrant and Muslim, she said.
A sign in the crowd read, "Gun control laws now."
A lineup of anti-terror police officers stood watch, feet from clusters of flowers honoring the dead and wounded. A bouquet of white roses came with the words, "Never stop dancing."
Joseph Pierce, of Brooklyn, came with his boyfriend to join others facing the violence in Orlando.
"Stonewall is a place that serves as a point of connection for a lot of people, for feeling vulnerable," he said.
The 33-year-old professor of Latin American literature noted the complex reasons behind such killings. In addition to possible radical Islamic motives, "homophobia is part of it, misogyny is part of it, and ways of thinking that allow you to imagine that murdering gay people is an available emotional response," he said.
President Barack Obama has said he wants to designate Stonewall as the first monument to the gay rights struggle.
De Blasio and two police officials declined to confirm reports that Mateen was born in New York. De Blasio said there was "very limited evidence of any connection to this city." The Washington Post said his ex-wife told the newspaper his family is from Afghanistan and he was born in New York before the family later moved to Florida.
De Blasio said a police force of more than 500 officers specially trained to fight terrorism would be deployed, particularly at key institutions representing the gay community, including the historic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.
The Manhattan bar became a national symbol of gay rights after a 1969 police raid led to violent street riots.
Activist Andy Humm, host of the "Gay USA" TV show, says Stonewall is "where we go when things like this happen." He said Sunday's gathering was spontaneous for people feeling a need to be together.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced flags at state buildings were being lowered after the Florida deaths, and de Blasio said flags were being lowered throughout the city while City Hall was to be lighted in colors reflecting gay pride.
One World Trade Center also was lit in the colors of the pride flag, and the top of the Empire State Building went dark Sunday night in sympathy for the Orlando victims.
On Sunday evening, de Blasio spoke at the Muslim Community Network's 6th Annual Gala.
"We in New York know this pain; we've been through it before," said de Blasio. "And we know that when something like this happens, the entire community feels it."