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After Charlottesville, bigotry and racism denounced at Buffalo prayer vigil

The hatred and bigotry that descended on Charlottesville, Va., Saturday when a coalition of white supremacist groups clashed with anti-racist and anti-fascist protestors will not be allowed to happen here, leaders vowed during a prayer vigil on Wednesday in Durham Memorial AME Zion Church.

The gathering attracted 600 to 700 people to the small church, located at 174 East Eagle St. on the East Side.

In addition to filling the main pews, balcony and basement of the church, at least 100 people stood outside to listen to remarks by clergy, labor leaders and elected officials, broadcast from a loudspeaker placed near the church's steps.

Among the speakers paying tribute to the victims of the events in Charlottesville were Lt. Gov. Kathy C. Hochul, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Brown criticized President Trump for what he called a lack of moral leadership in the wake of the death of Heather Heyer, 32, who was killed when a self-professed white supremacist drove a car into Heyer and 20 other protesters.

Brown accused Trump of defending "those espousing hate and depraved acts of violence while blaming the victims of assault and murder" when the president suggested those aligned with the neo-Nazi and supremacist group and those who were protesting against them bore equal culpability for the violence that broke out.

"We need a leader who promotes peace, promotes diversity and loves all of our people," Brown said of the president.

"I will and we will continue to pray for the victims of this senseless violence, those who stood up for all that is American. And I condemn the neo-Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists whose philosophy has no place in our world," Brown said.

Hochul, who traveled from New York City to take part in the hour-long vigil, said it was important for her to be present.

"We gather here in this house to find answers. And I'm not sure we'll walk out of here knowing the answers, but I know I will walk out of here feeling united as one community," Hochul said.

Alluding to her beginnings in a trailer park in Lackawanna, where, she said, she harbored a hope that future generations would be committed to rejecting hate, Hochul called on those in attendance to seek inspiration from those like Susan Bro, Heyer's mother, who expressed commitment to fighting racism and bigotry at a memorial service for her daughter Wednesday.

"Rather than to look to Washington (D.C.), let's look to people, like the mother of the young woman who lost her life, Heather," said Hochul.

"She said, when asked about the person who took her daughter's life, she said, 'I believe he thought hate was going to be the answer and hate would fix things, but he was wrong and people know that.' That is the lesson. That is the lesson, this mother's capacity to forgive," Hochul said.

Poloncarz, in his remarks at the vigil, recalled how a single Ku Klux Klan leader attempted to foment similar racial discord in Buffalo 40 years ago.

"See, back in 1981, Karl Hand, a neo-Nazi sympathizer, organized a white (supremacist) rally in Buffalo and called on others to join him. You remember it? On the day of the event, Karl Hand was joined by no one," Poloncarz said, prompting prolonged applause.

"A solitary bigoted figure against the entire united community. I remember taking great pride in my community knowing that no one would take stand with the Nazi. Of course, bigots and racists exist ... The bigots of the past wore white sheets over their heads to protect their identities. Today, they openly and proudly carry Tiki torches while making the Nazi salute for all to see," Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz chided Trump for his apparent equivocation in denouncing the white supremacist groups that descended on Charlottesville. Poloncarz acknowledged they had a First Amendment right to hold a rally, despite the repugnance of their message.

"But it also gives me the right to call you what you are, a small and weak bigot, and to tell each every one of them that your hate will not be tolerated, not here, not ever," he said.

Other speakers included state Sen. Tim Kennedy, Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes. She said remarks made by Heyer's mother at her memorial service called to mind the sacrifice of Mamie Till, mother of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American who was lynched by Ku Klux Klansmen in Mississippi in 1955, allegedly after offending a white woman in a grocery store.

"Years ago, much like Heather Heyer's mother, she stood and made a strong statement. Emmett Till's mother said you will not bury my son without exposing how he looked after you beat him half to death. Deal with that. That was the impetus of a movement that pushed us towards civil rights," Peoples-Stokes said.

She said she cried watching Heyer's mother on TV, "when she said she was not going to give up her (daughter's) fight."

"We have to stand with her," Peoples-Stokes said.

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