NEW YORK — Several hundred strong marched in a light rain Saturday from a church in Queens to a nearby park in stalwart opposition to the violence that took nine lives at a South Carolina Bible study and, once again, stirred a national debate over racism and guns.
"This was an act of racist terrorism," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, using a provocative term that some national leaders have refused to embrace. "It is abundantly clear and it pains us deeply that the pain of racism is alive in our country still."
De Blasio was joined by several elected officials at the rally held by Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York, a church pained by the suffering at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the famed African-American house of worship in Charleston.
Nine people, including the church's pastor, were gunned down Wednesday night during a Bible study. All of the victims were black. The alleged shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is white. He has been arrested and is in custody.
"Black lives matter," said de Blasio, invoking the rallying cry used after the recent killings of unarmed black men by police, including Eric Garner in New York last summer.
"We shouldn't have to say it," the mayor continued, "but we have to say it over and over until we no longer have to convince anyone of our common humanity."
The most poignant moment of the rally came at its end.
Attendees linked arms in prayer. They lit nine candles, one for each victim. After a moment of silence, a clergy member with a microphone called for the crowd to turn around and look at the back of the grassy field.
There, a middle-aged white police officer and two young black men were standing together, their arms on each other's shoulders as they observed the moment of silence.
"That is the photo of the event that we need," shouted the Rev. Craig Wright, a pastor from Long Island. "That is what we can be."
The rally began with the singing of "We Shall Overcome" and other Civil Rights-era songs. Several members of the crowd wiped away tears as the nine victims were remembered.
Nearly all yelled loudly when state Sen. N. Nick Perry led the group in chanting that South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of its statehouse.
Roof is facing nine counts of murder and a weapons charge. Prosecutors allege he sat in the church in Charleston for nearly an hour before opening fire.