LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Thousands marched in grief and defiance through the streets of Los Angeles for a Gay Pride parade held hours after the deadly Orlando shooting, as police arrested a man over an unrelated plot to attack the California event.
“We won’t be silenced and we won’t be curtailed no matter what kind of aggression they throw at us,” said Marpa Franzoni, 28, as he marched through the heart of Hollywood.
“I’m in shock. It’s more important than ever to show our visibility and support for our community.”
Acting on a tip-off, police in nearby Santa Monica arrested a heavily-armed man who said he wanted to “harm” the Los Angeles parade, taking place under tight security after the atrocity at the Pulse club in Florida left 50 people dead and 53 wounded.
James Howell, 20, was detained with a car full of weapons, ammunition and powder for explosives, according to police who said he had no apparent connection to the carnage in Orlando.
Authorities said they considered calling off the parade in Los Angeles but decided to go ahead with the festivities with a beefed up police presence.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who marched waving a rainbow-colored flag and carrying a sign that read “We love Orlando,” said the violence once again showed the heavy price paid from easily accessible weapons.
“We are here to march, to celebrate, and to mourn,” he told the crowd.
Authorities identified the gunman behind Sunday’s attack as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent, who is believed to have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State radical group before the massacre.
‘It’s a hate crime’
“Our hearts go out to the victims and survivors in Orlando, an attack not just on our LGBT brothers and sisters, but on all of us,” he added in a statement. “As we mourn the dead and tend to the injured and bereaved, we redouble our commitment to the essence of America — diversity and inclusion make our nation strong.”
Several people said the carnage made them think twice about attending the parade but decided a heavy turnout was the best answer.
“Today is yet another example in a long line of examples of why we need more rights, more protection for the LGBT community and how we need to combat hatred with love,” said Matt Reents, 32, public affairs spokesman for the British consulate in Los Angeles, which was taking part in LA Pride.
One Israeli spectator who survived an attack on a pride march in Jerusalem last year in which six people were stabbed, one fatally, said the slaughter in Orlando was clear evidence that no place was safe.
“If we must all live in fear then we just don’t leave the house,” he said, declining to be identified. “We’re just going to live our lives, educate people to not be homophobic, racist, against Arab people, Islamophobic and scared all the time.”
Many of those attending the event weren’t even aware of the Florida shooting or the number of victims until they arrived at the venue.
“We’re all still in shock,” said attorney Perry Handy, 48. “I’ve been coming to the parade for 20 years and last night’s event was clearly a step backward in our culture.”
Kyre Stucklin, 45, lamented that the focus was more on the gunman’s possible Islamist links than on the fact he targeted the LGBT community.
“It’s terrible that all they are talking about is international terrorism before they realize it’s a hate crime,” she said, breaking down in tears. “All they want to talk about is the name of the person who did it.
“Fifty gay and gay-friendly people were killed,” she added. “The greatest, worst mass shooting in US history is a hate crime, no matter what else it was, even if it was terrorism.”