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El Paso, Dayton mass shootings prompt protests, vigils in New York City

Community members and leaders gather for a vigil

Community members and leaders gather for a vigil and memorial at Bennett Park in Hudson Heights on Monday night. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

New York City officials called Monday on federal lawmakers to enact gun control reforms in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings over the weekend that took the lives of 31 people and injured dozens more.

The shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, sent shock waves through the nation — shock waves that reverberated Monday. The death toll of the El Paso massacre, which investigators connected to an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online by the alleged gunman, rose to 22 after two gunshot victims died of their injuries Monday morning, police said.

President Donald Trump condemned the shootings during a news conference at the White House Monday morning, but stopped short of pushing for more stringent gun control legislation. 

"In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy," Trump said, adding that more needs to be done about violent video games and mental illness. "It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence."

New Yorkers gathered at vigils and protests across the city Monday evening to call for unity and the condemnation of white supremacy. Many Democrats, including elected officials in New York City, demanded Congress pass tougher gun laws in the wake of the shootings. They specifically pushed for a ban on assault weapons; new waiting periods for gun purchases and universal background checks.

At Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza, mourners spread dozens of shoes with candles between each pair as a crowd of more than 100 gathered to remember the lives lost in both attacks as well as the recent shooting at a Brownsville block party that left one dead and 11 injured — a tragedy the borough is still reeling from. 

“We can’t be numb to violence. We can’t normalize violence,” says Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Chants of “enough” echoed off the Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch.

“Some of us every day are dealing with the violence," said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams

“You don’t need that weapon of war. You don’t need 500 handguns," Williams added. "We need actions.”

Meanwhile, another 100 mourners gathered at Bennett Park to pressure Congress to act. 

“I think it’s imperative now that beyond the prayer, we send a message to the rest of America," said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who organized the vigil. "The common denominator in all of these horrible killings is assault weapons. In urban settings across America, hand guns are killing everyone. We weigh on Mitch McConnel in the Senate to take them on immediately. On face value, they should be passed immediately:”

Bud Ramkissoon, 49, was walking by the vigil with his wife and children and decided to stop.

"Anytime something like this happens, it’s just sad," Ramkissoon said.

The organizers of a protest held at the same time in Union Square took an even stronger tone in their calls for gun control, blaming the president's rhetoric on immigration for inspiring the alleged gunman of the shooting at a Walmart in the southern border town of El Paso. Some in attendance felt the rhetoric around the shootings unfairly and erroneously stigmatized people with mental illness as violent.

Lower East Side resident Lydia Bacheco, 63, took issue with Trump’s assertion that the shootings had to do with mental illness.

"We’re not safe anywhere. Something has to be done," she said as a few dozen protesters chanted: "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA."

"Trump is saying the shootings happened because of mental illnesses. And why — because they’re white? I bet if they were black or Latino he’s not going to say something like that," Bacheco added.

Brooklynite Clay Patrie, 39, said it was important to eliminate the influence of large financial donors on elections and politics as a whole.

"The senate is totally beholden to the lobbyists and the NRA … if they were beholden to their constituents we’d have an assault weapons ban, we’d have background checks because the majority of people want these things," said Patrie, who brought his 5-year-old daughter to the protest at Union Square. "It’s not rocket science. We have to get money out of politics.”

The FBI has said it is investigating the El Paso shooting as domestic terrorism and a hate crime. The alleged shooter, Patrick Crusius, 21, posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto online shortly before the attack, officials said. He was charged with capital murder by state prosecutors, and more charges were expected to be filed.

The police chief in Dayton, meanwhile, said the motive for the shooting that killed nine people — including the alleged gunman's sister — remained unclear, race did not appear to be a motivating factor. The suspected shooter, Connor Betts, was killed by police responding to the scene outside of a bar in the city's downtown historic district.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who did not attend any of the city events, joined calls for stronger gun laws during an appearance on MSNBC for his presidential campaign. When asked if he believed the president was a white supremacist, the mayor said "in his own way, sure."

"Look at what [Trump] does,” de Blasio said. “He celebrates white culture to the exclusion of all other cultures and he consistently suggests people of color, in particular, are harming this nation when they're so many of the people who built this nation."

De Blasio continued to link Trump to the shootings and felt the president was merely “pretending” to condemn white supremacy.

“That wasn’t real,” de Blasio said. “You can’t attack a parade of leaders of color. You can’t attack Mexicans the first day of your campaign and then pretend that you’re trying to unify, or you haven’t been the cause of the problem; he’s the X Factor.” 

With Li Yakira Cohen, Ivan Pereira and Liam Quigley

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