Chicago Reacts to Orlando Mass Shooting

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Chicagoans from all walks of life are reacting to Sunday’s mass shooting in an Orlando night club that left a reported 49 people dead.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, other elected officials and mourners gathered outside the Center on Halsted in Lakeview for a candlelight vigil to memorialize the victims. The aftermath of Sunday’s violence has drawn response from Chicago's political, law enforcement, LGBTQ community and Muslim community.

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The mayor said that Chicago’s celebration of pride, including Pride Week beginning this weekend culminating with the Pride Parade on June 26 will go on as planned, although law enforcement officials say they are meeting in the coming days to discuss any added security or changes that will needed to be made.

There is some beefed-up presence in Boystown now and for the near future, although law enforcement officials say there are no credible terror threats in Chicago at this point.

Emanuel says an act of terror will not frighten Chicago out of celebrating equal rights.

“We as a city are not only going forward with the Pride Parade, but because that is where we express our common values of inclusion,” he said. “After San Bernardino, after Orlando, it is clear that we have to tighten up as it relates to terrorists [and] people with mental health issues the ability to go into a gun store and buy a gun. Our gun laws are way too lax for the type of life we want and we all share and the values we share.”

“It is incumbent on all of our political leaders to acknowledge that this was a crime that targeted LGBTQ Americans.”

–Brian Johnson, Equality Illinois

A total of 49 people have been confirmed dead with at least 50 or more wounded or in critical condition after 28-year-old Omar Mateen opened fire early on Sunday morning, according to various reports. It is the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and FBI officials have reportedly said that Mateen had been radicalized by ISIS on the internet, although they say he wasn’t a part of any official network.

Chicago equal rights activists say the hate crime element of this mass shooting, not just the terror aspect, must be front and center in the debate on what to do in the aftermath.

“It is incumbent on all of our political leaders to acknowledge that this was a crime that targeted LGBTQ Americans,” says Brian Johnson, director of Equality Illinois. “I want to see every political leader acknowledging that fact, because not doing so tries to erase our own community from this tragedy that befell us.”

The fact that this happened in a bar has particular resonance in the LQBTQ community. Bars and clubs are viewed as sort of a place of refuge, the place where the gay rights movement began.

“Clubs and bars for people in our community have traditionally been our only safe spaces, the only places where we could really be ourselves, where we were safe emotionally, and now we have to worry about our physical safety as well,” said Arthur Johnston, owner of Sidetrack bar in Boystown.

And representatives from the Islamic community say they were quick to condemn the actions of Mateen and reach out to the LGBTQ community. A group called the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago says they offered condolences and support to the community and condemned the senseless acts of violence that happen in the name of ISIS, weary of having to say such violence is not accurate representation of the Islamic faith as they see it.

“The LGBTQ community should not be targeted with this kind of hatred, and the Muslim community should not also be targeted,” said the council’s president, Mohammed Kaiseruddin. “It should be looked upon as an act carried out by a person who is mentally ill.”

They also said there were two mosques that were targeted with threats that they’ve turned over to the FBI – one in Wheaton and one in Naperville.

But they say that if there is a silver lining at this point in this tragedy, it’s that it has brought together communities that don’t often interface, like the Islamic community and the LGBTQ community, to promote a greater understanding of one another.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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