A Take Back the Night demonstration, organized to express community solidarity and opposition to several recent attacks on women, drew about 200 people to Symphony Circle on Sunday evening.
“This is our neighborhood, and we’re not going to tolerate violence against women,” said organizer Whitney Crispell of Richmond Avenue, who launched the event by creating a Facebook page and spreading the word to neighbors.
The resulting crowd included men and women of every age from children to senior citizens, some of whom said they live near the sites of the recent attacks on women in and near Allentown, the Elmwood Village and the West Side, but with a generous sprinkling of people from outside the city.
“This is my old neighborhood,” said Lisa Johnson of North Tonawanda, who returned to Western New York after living out of state for several years. “When I heard about the attacks on the West Side, I said I have to go to this. My roots are here.”
“I’m here because my sisters are being raped, and it’s wrong,” said the Rev. Ellen Brauza of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in University Heights. “We have to give the message that rape is never, ever acceptable. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing, it doesn’t matter whether she’s had something to drink, it doesn’t matter where she chooses to walk. It’s wrong and it has to stop.”
Mayor Byron W. Brown, who stood at the edge of the crowd as people arrived, said he was there to send the message that “we will not tolerate acts of violence within the community.”
Elvi Jo Daly stood within a tall triangular framework draped with white fabric and topped with a round moon face. She pointed out that the teepee-like fabric panels were held open with hand shapes decorated as signs of protection.
Mary Clare Fahey of South Buffalo said, “The people who perpetrate violence need to see that there is strength and unity in numbers, and see that the community will not sit idly by. The bottom line is that you have to watch out for your neighbor, whether that means the person who lives next door to you or the person you see walking along Elmwood.”
Fahey said she was heartened to see the number of men at the demonstration, “not only as supportive advocates, but because people don’t realize how many men are the victims of sexual assault.”
Crispell began the brief program by saying, “My name is Whitney and this is my neighborhood.” Residents, she said, have been “pretty scared, angry and felt a sense of helplessness.” And when she said, of the victims, “We do not accept what happened to them,” the crowd burst into applause.
One of the three women who spoke before the march was the survivor of one of the recent attacks. She was struck with a bottle as she was walking her dog four houses from her own door.
“I’m thankful I was able to get away,” she said. “At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell anyone, but very shortly I realized that I wanted to tell as many people as I could.”
She thanked her neighbors and housemates for their support and help and also credited her medium-size mixed-breed dog for doing his best to defend her during the attack.
With the assistance of several Buffalo Police officers, the group, holding candles, marched about a mile along Summer Street, Bryant Street, Ashland Avenue and Richmond Avenue back to Symphony Circle, keeping time with anti-violence chants.
As the group reconvened, anyone who wanted to take the microphone was welcome to tell his or her story. Some women spoke up about how alone and vulnerable they felt after they were raped, sometimes decades ago. Others addressed the issue of “rape culture,” in which such aggressions against women as catcalls and jokes about rape are accepted as normal.
Dionte M. Cooper, 16, of Porter Avenue, has been charged with first-degree rape in the July 2 attack on a woman who was storing her bicycle in a shed off Delaware Avenue.