Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and more than 500 residents from Sunnyside and Woodside, community leaders, representatives from the NYC Anti-Violence Project and Make the Road New York joined Danyal Lawson, the husband of Lou Rispoli, who was murdered, to march against violence during a candlelight vigil.
Shortly before 4 p.m. on November 17, people began gathering around the triangular John Downing Park at 51st Street and 43rd Avenue in Woodside, to march in memory of Lou Rispoli, a victim of violence four weeks earlier. More than 500 participants lit candles and formed a 10-block march to 41st Street and 43rd Avenue, where Rispoli was struck on the head early on the morning of October 20, and injured so badly that he died in the hospital five days later.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer mounted a two-step podium and spoke, emphasizing that he was addressing them more as a citizen, than as a politician. He said that Lou Rispoli lived on 51st Street and had for years been active in many local events and was also a strong advocate of gay rights. Of the three suspects in the case, still at large, Van Bramer said, “Maybe they think nobody cared, that nobody loved Lou.”
Nicole Bittlingmeyer, choir leader at Queen of Angels Church on Skillman Avenue, followed Van Bramer and sang five verses of “Amazing Grace”. The councilmember came back to thank her and also Mike Nunziata, of Nunziata Florists on Roosevelt Avenue, for providing a floral wreath, adding that Nunziata too was one of Rispoli’s many friends.
The gathering, by then in the hundreds, was guided by police to the south side of 43rd Avenue and, with dusk approaching, the candlelight march began.
It proceeded slowly and silently down the sloping avenue, filling two blocks, stopping when traffic lights were against the marchers, until the police began to halt traffic and let them through. When the marchers arrived at their destination, the police also had closed 41st Street between Queens Boulevard and 43rd Avenue.
“I’m thrilled and overwhelmed with the response,” Van Bramer told the crowd. Standing under the street sign, he said, “We’re at the place . . . where we lost Lou Rispoli.” He introduced Danyel Lawson. He and Rispoli had lived together for 33 years and were married last year. On the podium, Lawson said, “I’ve been robbed of an amazing man,” and so has the community.
He came down and left the final words to Van Bramer. “We will not give an inch of these streets to hate,” he said.
Rispoli had loved the same streets for more than 30 years, he added.
The councilmember concluded the ceremony by encouraging his listeners to “Please leave feeling good for our neighborhood.”
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