Vigil honors victims of New Zealand shooting


Hannah Heisler | Staff Photographer

“Rehumanize: A Vigil for Muslims in New Zealand” began with a ceremony of 50 volunteers going on stage, each holding a white rose to represent one of the victims from the Christchurch shooting.

By Maggie Young, Senior Staff Writer

Fifty white roses lined the stage of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall on Sunday night, each representing a victim of the Christchurch shootings.

Filling up the hall, hundreds of Pittsburghers gathered Sunday for “Rehumanize: A Vigil for Muslims in New Zealand” to honor the victims of the Christchurch shootings, which occurred March 16. In addition to paying tribute to the New Zealand victims and their families, the speakers at the vigil addressed the topics of hate and terror in regard to the death of Antwon Rose II and the Tree of Life shooting.

The event was organized by Alaa Mohamed, a Pitt grad who now serves as the Program Manager of The Global Switchboard, a Lawrenceville nonprofit designed to engage the Pittsburgh community with issues of social justice.

Mohamed explored the theme that gave this event its name — rehumanizing — which is defined as the nonviolent process of reviving one’s empathy toward others.

“Tonight we’re not remembering, we’re rehumanizing,” Mohamed said. “We’re rehumanizing the 50 murdered Muslims from New Zealand. We’re rehumanizing the victims of shootings that have also fallen victim to these patterns of violence, and we’re also going to take a step further and rehumanize the soil and roots that are breeding this hatred and the belief in white supremacy.”

The event began with a ceremony of 50 volunteers going on stage, each holding a white rose to represent one of the victims from the Christchurch shooting. After reading a short description of the victim, the presenter placed the white rose at the front of the stage.

Fourteen people from various organizations spoke throughout the event. Nur Iren, a sophomore studying computer engineering and the president of Pitt’s Muslim Students’ Association, discussed the importance of cultivating a safe campus environment for all students and reaching out to Muslims in the community in this time of grief.

Educating each other on cultural competency can no longer be considered as an afterthought. It is an essential investment in safeguarding our communities from ignorance and hate,” Iren said.

Dan Gilman, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, spoke after the discussion of ignorance and hate.

“We are still treated differently based on who we are at birth, who we love, what God we pray to, the color of our skin, our religion, and it has to change. We have to drive out the hate that would allow someone to walk into a mosque and murder more than 50 Muslims because of who they were,” Gilman said.

Gilman then opened discussion of hatred and gun violence in the Tree of Life massacre and the shooting of Antwon Rose II.

“We have to drive out the hate that would allow someone to walk into a synagogue — blocks from here — and murder senior citizens and special needs individuals because of who they were in a time of prayer,” Gilman said. “We have to drive out the hate that is allowing people to pick up guns and killing young black boys and girls throughout our neighborhood, throughout this city, throughout our state, throughout this country, because of who they are. We have to drive out hate.”

The following speakers emphasized the impact of the events following the fatal shooting of Antwon Rose II, who was killed on June 19. Rose, 17, was unarmed and shot by white former police officer Michael Rosfeld. Rosfeld was found not guilty on Friday evening.

Following Gilman, Pittsburgh hip-hop artist Jasiri X took the stage. Jasiri X is part of 1Hood Media, which is a group of artists dedicated to spreading awareness for social justice issues. He was joined by a coalition to spread awareness about Rose’s death, and noted they were standing in solidarity with the Muslim and Jewish communities.

“We ask you to join us in solidarity to make Pittsburgh a safe place for Muslims, a safe place for Jews and a safe place for black people as well,” X said.

This was followed by a reading of a poem Rose wrote in 2017, which reads, “I see mothers bury their sons / I want my mom to never feel that pain.”

Next on the stage was Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life. Myers, who spoke at Soldiers & Sailors for a vigil for the Tree of Life victims last fall, noted he was devastated to be at the same podium again speaking about another act of violence.

“When I heard the news [of the Christchurch shootings], it was as though the scab was ripped off my wounds once again,” Myers said. “You may think, ‘Why should that matter to you, you’re a rabbi.’ It mattered to me because once again, in our world, people who want to just worship their God were not given the opportunity to do so by someone who thought they had the right to act that way, and that person did not.”

Myers then questioned the humanity of someone willing to commit mass murder.

“When you kill human beings, I don’t know what species you belong to that you want to do something like that,” Myers said.

The final speaker of the evening was Wasi Mohamed, the executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. Mohamed ended the evening on a call to action, informing the audience how they can move forward with the information they received throughout the evening.

“If we don’t come together like this and if we don’t take action together, then we’re going to ensure that we are as divided as ever,” Mohamed said. “Ensure that the hatred in these people’s hearts will stay there forever.”

Mohamed also informed the audience that future events, such as a planned “Summit to Rehumanize” will take place to further these efforts.

“As Rabbi Myers said, we can not be speaking in the same echo chambers, we have to reach those who need to hear this message. Because if they never hear this, this is cathartic in a way, but we cannot solve these issues,” Mohamed said.

In regard to calls to action, first-year student and vigil attendee Anushay Chaudhry encouraged others to stand in solidarity with Muslims as they grieve at this time.

“If you’re a non-Muslim, reaching out to a Muslim friend or a Muslim neighbor, and saying, ‘Hey, I know this has impacted you in a really negative way, what can I do to help?’” Chaudhry said. “It can be as simple as just taking the time to listen to their grief.”

A previous version of this article referred to Antwon Rose’s death as a murder. The language has been updated to reflect Rosfeld’s acquittal.