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Vigil attendees mourn lost life, advocate tolerance
CEDAR RAPIDS — Whether or not the death of a young Waterloo man is eventually ruled a hate crime mattered little to the hundreds of vigil attendees who gathered in downtown Cedar Rapids Thursday night.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr. (letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963)
Andrew Harrison, of Cedar Rapids, is someone who has typically been involved with local vigils and demonstrations as an advocate of the local LGBT community. But when the Club Basix bartender learned of the brutal beating death of Marcellus Andrews, 19, and that anti-gay slurs that were reportedly a part of the incident that took Andrews’ life, Harrison felt compelled to step forward.
“I put this event on Facebook because I saw no one else was doing anything, and I was just outraged,” Harrison told The Iowa Independent Thursday night at the vigil. “I knew I couldn’t go up to Waterloo and be a part of any vigil there, and I thought we should do something here in Cedar Rapids because our community has always turned out for observances, vigils and demonstrations.
“I knew that Cedar Rapids could show our state and the nation that we’re not going to put up with bullying and taunting.”
Harrison’s quickly made Facebook event resulted in roughly 300 people converging near the Tree of the Five Seasons monument for a vigil consisting of official statements from equality advocates, prayer, moments of silence and singing of the gospel hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
Harrison added that regardless of if law enforcement investigating Andrews’ death rule the attack a hate crime, members of the LGBT community are aware of witness reports that the man was taunted with anti-gay slurs.
“No matter what one’s sexual orientation is, or what it is perceived to be, no one should be treated that way,” he said. “No one should have to hear such things — especially not at the end of his or her life. … Whether or not it was premeditated, whether or not this was a year-long dispute as the police have said it was, there should not have been comments like that made.”
Tim and Lisa Hughes, a Cedar Rapids couple that will celebrate their 30th year of marriage next week, said they were shocked to learn of such a violent thing happening in nearby Waterloo and they were shocked to know police weren’t considering prosecuting the event as a hate crime.
“Based on what we’ve heard that was said and done, it was really shocking to know this wasn’t being looked at as a hate crime,” Lisa Hughes said. “Anytime you kill someone there is hate involved.”
The couple said they wanted to come and attend the vigil because “it is important to show tolerance and acceptance of all others regardless of their race, their color, their gender or their sexual orientation.”
“We are all people,” said Lisa, who added while motioning to those around her on the 1st Avenue Bride, “And these are all good people.”
The world we live in, said Tim, has enough war and hate. “We should celebrate love and life every chance we get.”
Maureen Hill, faculty adviser for the City High Gay-Straight Alliance in Iowa City brought a handful of students to the vigil after the organization’s co-president, Ruth Anne Riedl, called attention to Andrews’ death and the witness accounts. For some time the GSA has been working to raise awareness of gender-based bullying and to show young people how powerful it can be to stand up to such adversity. Before the national “It Gets Better” campaign was underway, the Iowa City students had developed T-shirts that called attention to suicide.
“I personally thought it was really powerful to come out tonight, given how much time the group has spent on the T-shirts and trying to raise awareness about how important it is to stand together and be safe,” she said. “That something like this happened in Iowa — we simply needed to come out and be here.”
Riedl, a student at City High, said she became furious when she read the reports about what happened to Andrews.
“We live in 2011,” she said. “There is no reason something like this should happen.
“It doesn’t really matter what a person’s sexual orientation is, or even if the bullying and taunting is related to sexual orientation — it’s not OK for people to make remarks against others like that. I just thought it was important to come out and stand together and send that message: It is not OK for things like this to happen. There is no reason this should have happened, and it should never happen again.”
Rev. Martha Rogers, rector for Christ Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids, offered a prayer at the vigil and stood as a member of faith in the candlelight observance that followed on the bridge.
“As a member of the clergy, it is my honor and obligation to say that God creates us all, and we should all be treated with dignity and respect,” she said.
“A brutal death is not the way to change the world.”
The Cedar Rapids vigil was one of several held throughout the state in memory of Andrews and as reminders of tolerance for others. Those who were unable to attend a vigil were asked to leave their porch light on Thursday night, and individuals from California to Texas to New York left notes on that event’s Facebook page that their light was glowing.
Participants in Cedar Rapids collected $300 in donations, which will be given to the Union Missionary Baptist Church Drill Squad, the Crusaders, that Andrews helped train as a captain.
Formal services for Andrews will be held this weekend.