A Few of the Voices from LA's 'Charlie Hebdo' Vigil

The French community of Los Angeles held a refreshingly anger-free rally to honor the dead and show support for the magazine's mission.

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Jan 8 2015, 12:07pm

Photos by the author

On Wednesday night vigils sprang up all over the world in response to the massacre at the offices of the Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, during which 12 people were killed. Huge crowds gathered in Paris, London, Montreal, and New York. But there were also, by my count, more than a hundred people gathered in Los Angeles.

The impromptu event was organized via hashtag, and held in and around the Figaro Bistrot, a Parisian-style cafe and bar in the Los Feliz neighborhood, just east of Hollywood. As more and more demonstrators showed up, the crowd outgrew the sidewalk and poured onto Vermont Avenue

Just as I arrived, some guy with a gruff voice yelled down from an upstairs apartment, "Hey, you guys gonna at least tell me what you're waiting for?" A friendly woman's voice with a French accent yelled up at the guy, "We're having a vigil for the shooting in Paris. Is that OK?" In response, the gruff guy just kind of sputtered and went back inside.

That little tableau should give you a pretty good sense of why the event needed to exist, but I asked some of the demonstrators what the tragedy meant to LA's French community.

Gaston, 22, student

VICE: What brought you here?
Gaston: I heard that a lot of French people were gonna be here, so I just came to support the families over in France. I want to see my country come together, and I don't want them to mistake Muslim people for terrorist people. Muslim people make their own stuff, and it's really good. I don't want French people to think the shooters are just Muslim.

What do you think will happen next?
At this moment, in France, we have the extreme right really growing up, and it's a thing. I don't want them to use this to become stronger.

Fabienne, actress and Reiki practitioner

VICE: Are you a Charlie Hebdo fan?
Fabienne: I've known Cabu and [Georges] Wolinski, two of the caricaturists, since I was a little girl, and I really liked their view of the human race and their analysis of the situation. One drawing that comes to mind right now is the big hand of Allah pointing down at a jihadist and saying, "Allah is great, and he's very capable of defending the prophet on his own."

Is that why you're here?
[Tonight is about] being together, and showing that Charlie Hebdo is not dead. Their voices have not died. Free speech is still alive, wherever we are in the world.

What's going to happen next?
Some people are gonna mix up everything, and say that all Muslims are bad, then be afraid and closed off to difference and the unknown. The hope I have is that people unite peacefully. But I really doubt it's gonna happen.

Felix, 66, principal of a French school

VICE: What effect has Charlie Hebdo had on you?
Felix: I used to read Charlie Hebdo and I kept the drawings. I draw myself, so I admired those people so much.

So what's next for France?
This is a threat for the future of France because it can push the extremists on the other side. The nationalists can be violent. So it's important to be here, and not to yield to the threat. But there was a good reaction in France. The different religions came together and said, "No way. We don't accept that." Even the Muslims. I was afraid, of course, that this could be the start of a very severe atmosphere in France. But from what I saw and heard today from different political parties was that they're trying to be united.

You sound almost optimistic.
I hope so. I can only hope.

Hugo, 21, student

VICE: What do you want to see next for France?
Hugo: Fighting all types of extremism, but trying to be clear about what's an extremist and what's not.

What are some differences you want to point out?
Extremism to me is when you don't respect the people around you. Thinking that what you think is better than what others think. And acting to change the manner of other people... in a bad way.

I talked to some more people last night, wondering if anyone in the crowd was welling up with rage or xenophobia. But the others I spoke to struck more or less the same notes as these four: lots of melancholy, obviously, segueing into fear that anti-Muslim sentiment in France might grow.

I couldn't find a drop of anger. Maybe it's our weather, or maybe the grief was just too fresh. Either way, it was a pleasant surprise on a very unpleasant day.

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.

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