New York City first lady Chirlane McCray donned a white wedding gown as she marched through Upper Manhattan Tuesday morning, chanting “no more violence against women” alongside hundreds in the annual Brides’ March against domestic violence.
“Are we gonna take this?” McCray, the wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio, repeated three times during a speech at Christ Church in Washington Heights before the march began. “Let’s renew our vow to protect one another and help our communities heal.”
The Brides’ March, now in its 17th year, honors Gladys Ricart, a Dominican woman from Washington Heights who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in her home in New Jersey on Sept. 26, 1999, the day she was set to marry her fiancé in Queens.
In 2001, Josie Ashton, a Dominican woman from Florida, turned her outrage over Ricart’s death into action by walking 1,600 miles from Miami to Queens, wearing a wedding gown with Ricart’s picture pinned to the front to draw attention to domestic violence. A march has been held in New York on the anniversary of Ricart’s death every year since.
“This is how we grieve,” Ashton said Tuesday. “This is how we help each other heal.”
Many of the dresses worn at the march are donated, with organizers requesting donations from women whose wedding dress “no longer represents what it did to you the day you first wore it.”
There were 38 intimate partner homicides in New York City last year, according to the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence. Even as murder rates have dropped around the city, domestic violence homicide rates have not seen the same decline.
In July, members of the Brides’ March steering committee met with members of Congress in Washington, D.C., to demand support for Violence Against Women Act programs, which could see cuts in the Trump administration’s proposed budget. The steering committee will return to Washington next month to advocate further.
During Tuesday’s ceremony at Christ Church, women in gowns held signs bearing the number of people killed by an intimate partner in New York City in each year since 2002. One of the women in attendance was television personality Evelyn Lozada, who was raised in the Bronx and has spoken publicly about her experience as a domestic violence survivor. Lozada sat in the front row and held a sign reading: “2010, 77 victims.
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, state Assembly member Carmen de la Rosa, and City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez also spoke at the event.
After the ceremony, the crowd of mostly women poured into the street and marched south along Broadway, walking past street vendors and store owners who poked their heads out the door. They chanted: “Que pare, que pare, que pare la violencia,” stop the violence, and “castigo, castigo, a los abusadores,” punish abusers.
Lethy Liriano, Ricart’s niece, stood at the front of the group as it crossed the Macombs Dam Bridge toward Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Liriano grew up with Ricart and Ricart’s son in Washington Heights, where Liriano still lives today, and she was a teenager when Ricart was killed.
Liriano saw Ricart as a role model, she said, noting that Ricart immigrated from the Dominican Republic, attended Lehman College and became an accountant before buying a home in Ridgefield, New Jersey.
“She was a leader and a beautiful person,” Liriano said. “Her energy and her spirit and her positivity – I still have blessings every day from how she helped me and my mom.”
Three of Ricard’s siblings and two of her nieces were among the marchers Tuesday. A few dozen men marched, too, wearing all black at the direction of march coordinator Grace Pérez. Anthony Soto, 19, wore a tee-shirt with a photograph of Ricard and walked alongside his girlfriend, Sarai Fernandez. The couple said that both of their families have been deeply affected by abuse.
“My mother has been through a lot of traumatizing stuff – cheating, verbal abuse, physical abuse,” said Soto, adding that men have an important role to play in curbing domestic violence. “I believe that if men also join the cause, it will be even better.”
The Violence Policy Center has found that, in the United States, nearly three women are murdered each day by current or former romantic partners. On Tuesday, event organizers took a moment to mourn the death of Adalgisa Garo, whose ex-husband reportedly stabbed her in the Bronx on Monday.
Liriano said that, while she will always be angry over her aunt’s death, she feels a sense of purpose at the Brides’ March.
“She wasn’t here for my wedding, my graduation, and I can’t bring her back,” Liriano said. “But there’s a sense of commitment and responsibility – that I can lend my voice to a larger cause than her death.”
McCray, who has made combating domestic violence one of her top priorities as first lady, advised victims and their supporters on Tuesday to call 311 or the city’s crisis hotline – 1-888-NYC-WELL – if they need help.