Tag Archives: vigils

We are Orlando: Wisconsin mourns after Pulse shooting

On the opening evening of PrideFest Milwaukee 2014, joy swept through the Summerfest grounds as news that a federal judge had overturned the state law banning same-sex marriage spread quickly.

The final day of PrideFest this year brought very different emotions, as the community struggled to comprehend the calculated, hate-driven slaughter of at least 49 people in a gay dance club in Orlando, Florida.

It was the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

News of the massacre spread slowly through Milwaukee June 12. Some spectators at the annual Milwaukee Pride Parade in Walker’s Point learned about it from a banner carried by marchers representing the Democratic Party of Wisconsin that read, “Wis Dems Stand in Solidarity Orlando.”

As Milwaukee was winding up its Pride weekend, the bodies of the fallen were being removed from Pulse Orlando, where “Latin Night” was turned into a bloodbath when Omar Mateen, 29, entered the club near closing time and shot 102 revelers. The majority of those killed were gay Hispanic men.

Investigators and people who knew and worked with Mateen have described him as an angry, unhinged bigot who bragged about his ties to various Islamic terrorist groups. He was a familiar face at Pulse, and he’d carefully planned his attack in advance.

PRIDEFEST RESPONDS

Law enforcement officials notified PrideFest organizers about the atrocity early June 12. Acting together, PrideFest staff and public safety officers worked to expand the Milwaukee Police Department’s presence at the event. Volunteers stepped up to increase the festival’s security staff.

Bereavement counselors were present to speak with people traumatized by the pervasive news about the attack. Festival organizers created a makeshift shrine on the lakefront where people could pay silent respect to the slain.

PrideFest also scheduled a 4 p.m. memorial service, where Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the rainbow-colored word “Proud,” joined others at the podium on the mainstage to deliver calls for unity.

But, primarily they urged Milwaukeeans not to succumb to fear.

“Today is a day to come out, to be seen and to be heard, in honor of those whose day was stolen from them,” said PrideFest communications director Michail Takach in a news release distributed before the festival grounds opened June 12. “Today is a day to remember where we started and why we started. Today is a day for solidarity.”

VIGILS ACROSS THE STATE

In the aftermath of the tragedy, LGBT Wisconsinites and their allies came together in vigils throughout the state. People gathered to express their grief, denounce hatred and call for gun control. Flags flew at half-staff in Milwaukee and other cities.

Milwaukee’s vigil took place June 13 outside the south entrance of Milwaukee City Hall, which was draped with a giant rainbow flag. Hundreds of people crowded the wide intersection at East Wells and North Water streets. Some held candles and others miniature rainbow flags or U.S. flags donated by Oak Creek-based Eder Flag Manufacturing Co., which has a distribution facility in the Orlando area.

Organizers of the vigil were Milwaukee Pride, Diverse & Resilient, Islamic Society of Milwaukee, UWM LGBT Resource Center, Cream City Foundation, Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Planned Parenthood, FORGE, Milwaukee Metropolitan Community Church, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and several other groups.

Speaker Brenda Coley cautioned listeners “not to make this about Islam — it’s about homophobia through and through.” She urged her audience to bring people together and counter hate.

Karen Gotlzer, the executive director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, also spoke, reminding the crowd that despite the legalization of same-sex marriage and other recent strides toward equality, what happened in Orlando “reminds us that we have very much to do.”

“This happened against a backdrop of anti-LGBT legislation that is sweeping the country,” Gotzler said, referring to the recent enactment of “bathroom bills” in some states, most famously in North Carolina. The laws ban transgender people from using restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. Wisconsin Republicans tried to introduce such a law in the last session of the Legislature and have vowed to do so again.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett delivered a speech that brought many listeners to tears. He began by thanking “each and every one of you for being here tonight to demonstrate and display the humanity we have in this city.”

“As Americans, when some of us are hurting, all of us are hurting,” he said. “It is important for us to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community, with the Latino community. … That is why we are here tonight.

“There are those who try to divide us. They try to pit us against each other. We cannot allow that to happen. We are better than that.”

Barrett drew the most enthusiastic applause of the vigil when he denounced the easy access that people have to “weapons that were not designed for self-defense,” but rather were “designed to kill … dozens of people in a short amount of time.”

“We all know that we must do more than pray that the unjustified killings will be stopped,” he said. “We have to take action as well.”

In Madison, LGBT activist Callen Harty organized a June 12 candlelight vigil at the intersection of State Street and Capitol Square. About 100 people attended the memorial. Vigils were also held in Racine, Green Bay and Appleton.

RANGE OF REACTIONS

Many of the state’s public officials issued statements condemning what President Barack Obama called both an act of hate and an act of terrorism. Notably, not one Republican state official who issued a statement mentioned the word “gay” or the term “LGBT,” which mirrored Republican responses on the national level.

Gov. Scott Walker was heavily criticized for issuing a generic, one-sentence response to the massacre.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and other Democrats called for people to come together across the lines that divide us. In a statement June 12 on her Facebook page, Baldwin wrote: “This was not only a horrific attack on the LGBT community, it was an attack on the freedoms we all hold dear. The question now for America is are we going to come together and stand united against hate, gun violence and terrorism? I understand it may not be easy, but I know we are better than this and it is past time to act together.”

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, took GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to task for claiming the shooting validated his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants — even though Mateen was born in the United States. Ortiz blasted Trump for using “this tragedy as a platform for Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism.”

“The young people in Pulse on Saturday night painted a beautiful picture of what our society could be: diverse, brown, queer, liberated, dancing, a world defined by love, not borders,” Neumann-Ortiz said in her statement.

At the end of the Milwaukee vigil, the giant bell atop city hall tolled 14 times, one for each occasion that the president has issued a statement responding to a mass killing in the United States.

Other than the somber sound of the bell, all that could be heard were seagulls and sobs.

 

Terror in the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’

An act of terror.

An act of hate.

The world responded with love and compassion, fury and fight.

Early on the morning of June 12, a gunman armed with an assault rifle and a handgun went on a rampage at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida. He killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others — some gravely.

The 29-year-old killer was an American who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, abused his wife, used slurs against blacks, Jewish people, women and gays — although he himself was a regular patron of Pulse. He went on to terrorize LGBT people in that place that existed to celebrate Pride and provide sanctuary.

Orlando — famously known as the “Happiest Place on Earth” — became the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, a massacre that left Americans mourning the many lost and struggling to address extremism, prejudice and gun access.

“I can’t stop crying. I can’t make any sense of it all,” said Henry Rivera of Orlando, a transgender man who works at a restaurant just outside Disney World. “Everything seems different now.”

Music, dancing, and terror

On June 11, more than 300 people crowded into the high-energy club on South Orange Avenue for Latin night, an evening that promised entertainment by two drag performers, as well as dancing and music — salsa, meringue, bachata.

Shortly after 2 a.m. on June 12, Omar Mateen, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun, attacked the club, according to reports from the Orlando Police Department and FBI. As WiG to press, authorities were still compiling a detailed and complete timeline of what happened at Pulse.

Survivors described chaos as Mateen launched a barrage of bullets, striking people at the bar, on the dance floor, in the restrooms and elsewhere.

An off-duty Orlando police officer working as a security guard at the club responded to the gunfire. More officers arrived and Mateen retreated deeper into the club, then into a bathroom.

At 2:09 a.m. an alert was posted on Pulse’s Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”

Dozens of people ran from the club, and more than 100 police officers responded to what became a standoff.

Police believe Mateen killed most of his victims in the first 30 minutes. Those remaining in the bar were either hostages or in hiding.

At 2:39 a.m., Eddie Justice texted his mother from the bathroom in the club:

“Call them mommy”

“Now”

“I’m still in the bathroom”

“Hes coming”

“Im going to die.”

Justice did die. His last text from the club was at 2:50 a.m.

At about 5 a.m., police used a controlled explosion and an armored vehicle with a battering ram to clear a way for people inside the club to escape.

Mateen died in an exchange of gunfire with police shortly after that.

Violent, conflicted and radicalized

The killer talked with police three times during the standoff, FBI Director James B. Comey said in a televised news briefing from headquarters in Virginia on June 13. Comey said calls from the killer to law enforcement began about 2:30 a.m. During those calls, Mateen, who was born in New York, claimed allegiance to the leader of Islamic State, as well as to the perpetrators of the 2013 Boston Marathon attack and to a Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria.

“These are strong indications of radicalization by this killer and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorism organizations,” Comey said.

He added that the bureau, along with state and local law enforcement, were trying to understand “every moment of the killer’s path” leading up to the shooting.

The FBI was already familiar with Mateen. In May 2013, the bureau began investigating him after co-workers said the contract security guard made inflammatory comments and claimed a family connection to al-Qaida. He was interviewed twice but the case was closed.

Two months later, Mateen’s name came up as a casual acquaintance of a Florida man who blew himself up in Syria.

“Our investigation turned up no ties of any consequence between the two of them,” Comey said. “We will continue to look forward in this investigation and backward. We will leave no stone unturned.”

According to AP, the investigation found that Mateen, the son of an Afghan immigrant, was a body builder who attended a mosque in Fort Pierce, Florida, and wanted to become a police officer.

AP also reported there were questions emerging about whether Mateen was conflicted about his sexuality. He allegedly cased Gay Days at Disney World about a week before the shooting and was seen regularly at Pulse. He apparently used gay dating apps as well.

Mateen’s first wife, from whom he was divorced, has said he was abusive and suffered from mental illness. The killer’s father said Mateen expressed a hatred of gays, recently expressing anger at seeing two men kiss.

Mateen’s father also made homophobic remarks to the press, saying that it was wrong for his son to shoot gay people because their punishment should come from God.

“While the motive behind this crime remains unclear, our resolve to live openly and proudly remains undiminished. Now is a time for the whole nation to stand together against violence,” Rea Carey, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said June 12.

Chad Griffin, the president and CEO of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “This tragedy has occurred as our community celebrates Pride, and now more than ever we must come together as a nation to affirm that love conquers hate.”

Memorials and mobilizing

Vigils took place as early as June 12 and continued for days after the shooting.

Many of the observances included a moment of silence and a reading of the victims’ names (see “The slain, next page). Many vigils ended with candleholders singing “Over the Rainbow.”

Hundreds sang, “If happy little bluebirds fly/Beyond the rainbow why, oh, why can’t I?” at the end of a vigil June 13 in Sarasota, Florida, the hometown of Edward Sotomayor Jr., who recently helped to organize the first LGBT cruise from Florida to Cuba. Sotomayor was shot while trying to get his boyfriend to safety.

Many at the Sarasota vigil called the mass shooting a hate crime and, though there were demands for stricter gun control, the focus was on anti-LGBT violence.

“This attack was with guns, but our people have been killed with knives and bombs and fists, too,” said Patricia Callahan of Lakeland, Florida. “We can’t forget.”

Vigils took place across the country, at city halls and courthouses, plazas and parks, community centers and gay bars.

“This unimaginable atrocity has not only robbed countless people of their loved ones, it has also stolen a sense of safety within the LGBTQ community,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.

In New York City, many gathered outside the Stonewall Inn, considered the birthplace of the modern LGBT civil rights movement. There, they chanted, “No hate, no hate! More love, more love.”

In Wisconsin, multiple vigils took place, including in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and Appleton.

There also were many memorials outside the United States. In Paris, U.S. and gay Pride flags flew at city hall and the Eiffel Tower was lit up like a rainbow.

Heads of state sent letters of condolence and issued condemnations. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said his country stands “shoulder to shoulder with our American brothers and sisters,” and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah called the shooting a “senseless act of terror and hate.”

Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah urged “collective actions to end such attacks.”

At the United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein decried insufficient gun control in the United States and criticized the irresponsible pro-gun propagandizing in the country.

‘America’s rifle’

Criticism also was leveled in the United States.

The massacre is “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship or in a movie theater or in a nightclub,” President Barack Obama said June 12, in remarks from the White House. “And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be.”

Mateen was armed with the handgun and a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle — marketed in the U.S. as a “modern sporting rifle.” He purchased it at the St. Lucie Shooting Center in Florida. Semi-automatic rifles also were used in mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; San Bernardino, California; and elsewhere. The NRA calls that weapon class “America’ rifle.”

After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, the president dedicated the start of his second term to pushing legislation that would have banned certain assault-style weapons and capped the size of ammunition clips. The effort, however, failed in the U.S. Senate due to heavy opposition from Republicans who are backed by the National Rifle Association.

In the years since, some reforms have taken place at the state level. But GOP-headed states, including Wisconsin, have enacted measures to weaken gun control laws.

On June 13, Senate Democrats renewed calls for reform and Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, repeated her call to keep weapons of war off the streets and “out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals.”

Clinton and the president postponed a campaign visit to Green Bay scheduled for June 15, as the president made plans to visit Orlando on June 16 to “stand in solidarity with the community.”

 

The slain

As WiG went to press, these were the known dead in the Pulse terror attack:

Stanley Almodovar III, 23; Amanda Alvear, 25; Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26; Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33; Antonio Davon Brown, 29; Darryl Roman Burt II, 29; Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28; Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25; Luis Daniel Conde, 39; Cory James Connell, 21; Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25; Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32; Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31; Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25; Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22; Paul Terrell Henry, 41; Frank Hernandez, 27; Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40; Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19; Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30; Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25; Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32; Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21; Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49; Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25; Kimberly Morris, 37; Akyra Monet Murray, 18; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20; Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36; Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32; Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35; Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25; Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27; Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35; Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24; Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24; Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34; Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33; Martin Benitez Torres, 33; Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24; Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37; Luis S. Vielma, 22; Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50; Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37; Jerald Arthur Wright, 31.

 

Donations and support

Equality Florida, the statewide LGBT civil rights group, established a GoFundMe page to raise money to support those injured and the families of those killed at Pulse. Donations are accepted at www.gofundme.com/pulsevictimsfund.

The Associated Press contributed to these reports.

For updates and continued coverage, go to www.wisconsingazette.com.

 

Across the world, shock and condemnation at Orlando massacre

From across the world, officials and public figures are expressing condemnation and shock over the Florida mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub on June 12, when police say a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle opened fire, killing at least 49 people and wounding dozens.

FRANCE

The Eiffel Tower shined in the colors of a rainbow starting at 10:45 p.m. June 13 to honor victims of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Paris City Hall paid respects when U.S. and rainbow flags flew.

France feels deeply the horror of deadly attacks after the November terror attacks on a music hall, restaurants and bars and the main sports stadium killed 130. That was preceded by attacks on a satirical newspaper and a kosher grocery store. All were claimed by the Islamic State group.

BRITAIN

J.K. Rowling says one victim of the Orlando killings worked on the Harry Potter Ride at the Universal Studios theme park.

The author tweeted a picture of 22-year-old Luis Vielma in a Hogwarts school tie, and said: “I can’t stop crying.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron have sent messages of condolence from Britain for the attack.

Buckingham Palace says the queen sent a message to President Barack Obama saying: “Prince Philip and I have been shocked by the events in Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected.”

GERMANY

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it’s important to continue with “our open, tolerant life” following attacks such as the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Speaking during a visit to China on June 13, Merkel said that “we have a heavy heart” over the fact that “the hatred and malignancy of a single person” cost so many lives.

She added: “We are firmly determined, even when such murderous attacks put us into deep sorrow, to continue with our open, tolerant life.”

In downtown Berlin, dozens of people came together in front of the U.S. Embassy to mourn the victims of the Orlando shooting. People were setting white lilies and pink roses next to teddy bears in front of a rainbow flag and a U.S. flag.

“We are very much in shock, but we also want to show that nobody will succeed in intimidating us,” Joerg Steinert from the Lesbian and Gay Association said. “We’re here today to condemn this act.”

Djuke Nickelsen, carrying a bouquet of cornflowers and chamomile, said she’d come to show her solidarity with the victims and their relatives.

“I was very touched and sad these people were killed — all they did was embrace and enjoy life.”

UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF

The U.N. human rights chief has denounced the mass shooting.

Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, commenting at the opening of the three-week Human Rights Council session in Geneva, chronicled a number of human rights abuses and concerns.

He added: “I also condemn with the greatest possible force the outrageous attacks by violent extremists on innocent people, chosen at random, or because of their presumed beliefs, or opinions, or — as we saw — their sexual orientation.”

CYPRUS

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has condemned the Orlando attack, saying that such “cowardly attacks” incite the revulsion of the international community.

In a written statement, Anastasiades said the killings further galvanize the world’s determination to combat terrorism.

Anastasiades also expressed his and his government’s condolences to the victims’ families, the government and the American public.

ISRAEL

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin says in a letter to President Barack Obama that Israel stands “shoulder to shoulder with our American brothers and sisters” after the attack on the LGBT community. Rivlin sent his condolences, saying there is “no comfort for those who have had their loved ones torn away from them.”

The Orlando attack has dominated news in Israel, which has seen a wave of Palestinian attacks in recent months.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah says the mass shooting in U.S. history is a “senseless act of terror and hate” and that “Palestinians stand with the American people in this difficult time.”

The statement made no direct reference to the LGBT community. Homosexuality is deeply taboo in the conservative Palestinian society. Gay Palestinians tend to be secretive about their social lives and some have crossed into Israel to live openly safely.

The sentiment is reflected throughout the Arab and Muslim world. In Saudi Arabia, judges can issue the death penalty for same-sex relations.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told the Cabinet as he opened the weekly meeting live on television on June 13 that the Orlando attack “tells us that terrorism knows no religion, boundary and geography. Terrorism must be eliminated.”

He says that Afghans “do not support terrorism but the victims of terrorist attacks” and offered his condolences to the people and government of the United States. “Our hearts and minds are with our U.S. partners.” He also urged “collective actions to end such attacks.”

PAKISTAN

Pakistan’s former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the Orlando shooting, saying ‘this is a sobering reminder that extremism and terrorism are on the rise.’

Musharraf, who is facing court cases at home but left Pakistan in March for treatment abroad, says on his Facebook page the world must “address the root causes of global terrorism to suck the oxygen out of the extremist narrative of hate, intolerance, bigotry and the promotion of obscurantist ideology that is radicalizing vulnerable Muslims around the world.”

KUWAIT

Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry says the government strongly condemns the “terrorist attack” that took place in Orlando, adding that the escalation of such assaults requires a doubling down of efforts on the part of the international community to eliminate “this disgusting phenomenon.”

Last year, 27 people were killed by an Islamic State suicide bomber in Kuwait during prayer at a mosque in the capital.

QATAR

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Orlando mass shooting and called for concerted international efforts to “face criminal acts that target civilians.”

EGYPT

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Orlando attack “in the strongest possible terms,” and offered condolences to the American government and people. “Egypt stands next to the American people in these difficult times, offering sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishing the injured a speedy recovery.”

Egypt’s statement urged for international solidarity and a “firm, comprehensive approach to confronting terrorism, which knows no borders or religion, and is incompatible with all humanitarian principles and values.”

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The United Arab Emirates condemned “the terrorist attack” in Orlando, expressed its solidarity with the United States and called on the international community to work to “eliminate the scourge of terrorism.”

LEBANON

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry is strongly condemning the “cowardly” attack in Orlando, expressing solidarity with the victims and the U.S. government and blaming the massacre on the Islamic State group. It says no country or person is safe from “this global blind terrorism.”

The ministry statement says that “once more, this terrorist organization carries out a sordid terrorist act that clearly reflects the truth of its existing project based on animosity to civilization and humanity.”

The Islamic State’s radio on June 13 called the Orlando mass shooter “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America,” though IS has not officially claimed the attack.

The Lebanese statement doesn’t explicitly mention attacks on homosexuals. But the religiously-mixed Lebanon is the most liberal among the region’s Arab nations regarding same-sex relationships, with an active LBGT community. Although technically homosexuality is against Lebanese law, activists have strongly challenged it in courts.

CHINA

China’s official Xinhua News Agency issued a statement saying President Xi Jinping had telephoned his American counterpart Barack Obama to express his condolences over the Orlando shootings.

Xi was quoted as saying that “on behalf of the government and people of China, I convey to President Obama and the American government and people my deepest sympathies, sincere condolences and deep grief for the victims.”

JAPAN

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has condemned the Orlando nightclub attack and expressed condolences to the victims and their families.

Abe told reporters in Oita that “Japan stands together with the people of the United States” and that “this despicable act of terror cannot be tolerated.”

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the Orlando mass shooting was “an attack on all of us — on all our freedoms, the freedom to gather together, to celebrate, to share time with friends.”

He said he spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Australia, John Berry, “and formally conveyed to him Australians’ sympathy, condolences and resolute solidarity in the face of this shocking act of hate and terror.”

“Together, at home and abroad, we continue the fight against terrorism and stand up for the values of our free nations,” Turnbull said.

SINGAPORE

The mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub happened shortly after a same-sex kiss was removed from a production of the musical “Les Miserables” in Singapore, and after the government said it would look into rules of foreign funding for gay pride parades like Pink Dot.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Facebook: “Another senseless shooting. … It just goes on and on. The madness is not going to stop.”

MALAYSIA

The prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia, Najib Razak, said he was “horrified” by the Orlando mass shooting. “Islam abhors killing of innocent people,” he tweeted.

A few Malaysians, using pseudonyms, wrote on social media that they approved of the attack at the gay nightclub because the victims were “sinners,” but they were quickly condemned by many others.

Peace activists march to protest drones

Joy First has been arrested about 35 times.

“I think that many,” says the Mount Horeb resident, who has been active in the peace movement since about 2002 and the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And she’s willing to risk arrest again in act of civil resistance at Volk Field at Camp Douglas in Wisconsin. Volk is the site of the Tactical Unmanned Aerial System facility, a $4.5-million operation housing the RQ-7B Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and a platoon of operators, according to base information.

Aug. 18–25, First plans to join other peace activists in a 90-mile march from the Dane County jail in Madison to Volk. The activists plan to walk about 12–16 miles a day and spend their nights at churches, homes or campsites. 

On the eve of the march, a public assembly will be held at Edgewood College in Madison.

The organizing groups are Chicago-based Voices for Creative Nonviolence and the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars.

For more than three years, the coalition has been holding monthly vigils at the gates to Volk. The first vigil was held in December 2011.

The Shadow drones at Volk are not armed but, First said, “They are part of the bigger picture of U.S. warfare. Without the Shadow, they wouldn’t be able to use the Predator.”

The RQ-7 Shadow UAV is equipped with a camera and used for reconnaissance and surveillance; the Predator is a larger aircraft with weaponry.

The Shadow is being used by ground troops to support convoy operations, field artillery and troops in contact with enemy forces, according to the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.

In August 2010, the Wisconsin National Guard at Volk launched the first test of the Shadow, which can reach heights of 15,000 feet and has a range of about 125 kilometers.

In December 2013, military leaders gathered with elected officials for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Volk to celebrate the construction of the unmanned aircraft facility. The Shadow, the speakers emphasized, would be deployed to help save the lives of U.S. servicemembers.

Activists decided to begin the August march at the jail to make a connection between the violence overseas and the violence committed by militarized U.S. police forces. At a short program at the jail at 10 a.m. on Aug. 18, the marchers will hear from representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We’re really trying to draw the connection by walking from the jail to the field that what the U.S. military is doing to brown people on the other side of the world is connected to what the police are doing to black people in this country,” said First. 

She added, “People are coming from all over the country to participate in this walk. And it really does feel like a family reunion.”

“These drones, we believe, are illegal and criminal,” said First.

“Most of the people who go are involved in a lot of different anti-war activity,” First said. The protesters assemble at about 3:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month.

Occasionally the protesters go beyond the gates. Demonstrators risked arrest to walk on the base with a letter to the commander and risked arrest again to deliver a call to prosecute for war crimes.

“We are handcuffed and arrested. They take us to the station 20 miles away,” she said. “We get bench trials, where we’ve been found guilty.”

She said charges often get downgraded from a misdemeanor to an ordinance violation.

First has participated in other anti-war actions, including at the White House and Pentagon, and she plans to attend another demonstration in Washington, D.C., in September.

First arrived at anti-war activism in her 50s. “This is something that I just feel I’m called to do. I think about my grandchildren and I have to do this.”

She has six grandchildren between the ages of 4 and 16 and she’s spoken with all of them about war and peace.

“We’ve talked about why I’m doing this and why it’s important,” she said. “We’ve talked about war and people dying.”

Wisconsinites float Lanterns for Peace

August brings peace actions around the world. The tradition, in part, commemorates the anniversary of America’s atomic bombings of Japan.

This year marked the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki, on Aug. 9, 1945. The attacks by the United States hastened an end to World War II, with Japan’s surrender days later.

About 200,000 people died in the two blasts.

Each year, Japan’s government marks the anniversaries with a memorial at Budokan hall in Tokyo.

This year in Japan, memorials also were held in peace parks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as concerts, film screenings, art exhibits and seminars.

Memorials also were held across the country, including in Wisconsin, where Lanterns for Peace ceremonies took place at Governor Dodge State Park near Dodgeville on Aug. 2, Tenney Park in Madison on Aug. 6 and Washington Park in Milwaukee on Aug. 8.

Vigils planned across Texas for slain lesbian couple

Vigils are planned for Wednesday in several locations in Texas in memory of Crystal Jackson and Britney Cosby, the 24-year-old girlfriends slain earlier this month. Their bodies were found on March 7 in a dumpster near Galveston, Texas.

The women had been together for about two years and were raising a daughter.

Cosby’s father has been arrested in connection with the case and there have been reports that the women were killed at his residence. There also have been conflicting reports as to how the father, James Larry Cosby, was dealing with his daughter’s sexual orientation and relationship with Jackson. He was taken into custody for allegedly tampering with evidence in the case but authorities have said charges could be upgraded to capital murder.

Detectives in Galveston are asking for the public’s help in identifying a man in a composite sketch who was last seen with the women and may be driving Cosby’s silver 2006 Kia Sorrento. The vehicle is considered a key piece of evidence in solving the killings.

Activists planning the vigils reminded authorities and the public that in 2012, in a park in Portland, Texas, someone fatally shot Mollie Olgin and seriously injured her girlfriend, Mary Kristine Chapa. The crime hasn’t been solved.

C.D. Kirven, an LGBT activist and member of the Dallas LGBT Taskforce, said, “We want to celebrate the way Britney and Crystal lived and not the way they died. They were a part of a community, an LGBT family, that mourns their loss.”

Tiffani Bishop, co-state lead organizer for GetEQUAL Texas, added, “The tragic murders of Britney and Crystal are truly heartbreaking. To discover that Britney’s father is suspected of committing these crimes is difficult to wrap my head around. It is beyond time that our community begin an open and honest dialogue about violence against queer women of color.”

Said Patrick Fierro, co-state lead organizer for GetEQUAL TX, “Let us come together as a community and celebrate the lives of Crystal and Britney. Let’s continue our fight to protect our sisters and the LGBT family from violent acts against us. Love conquers all so, let’s love one another.”

The vigils are set to take place on March 19, but plans are still coming together. Some early details:

• Austin Vigil at 8 p.m., MCC Austin, 8601 South First St..

• Corpus Christi Vigil, 7:30 p.m. The Water Gardens, 1902 N. Shoreline.

• Dallas Prayer Vigil at 7 p.m., Living Faith Covenant Church, 3403 Shelley Blvd, Dallas.

• Fort Worth Vigil at 8 p.m., Rainbow Lounge, 651 South Jennings Ave, Fort Worth.