Carrying signs that said “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) and “Nous Sommes Tous Charlie” (We are all Charlie), more than 300 people gathered in front of the Newseum Jan. 7 to express solidarity for free speech and the 12 people murdered earlier that day in the Paris newsroom of Charlie Hebdo.
The predominantly French crowd, which included Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, arrived at the Newseum around 7 p.m. and stood in the bitter cold chanting “je suis Charlie” in French and English after each victim’s name was read. The Newseum, which allowed the crowd to stand inside to warm up, projected the Je Suis Charlie sign on its atrium screen.
Outrage at the killings was the spark for many of the attendees, despite the icy winds.
“It’s a time of getting together, unifying against those monsters,” said Olivier Roumy, a French expatriate and organizer of the vigil. “It’s not just an attack on France, it’s an attack on freedom of speech,” he said.
Laetitia-Laure Brock, a French expatriate who has lived in Washington for 11 years, co-organized the vigil on social media. She said she suggested the one-night demonstration at the Newseum because its commitment to free speech “speaks to what this is about.”
She also expressed concern about freedom of religion and retaliation against Islam.
“This vigil shows that we not only stand with the people who were hurt today but also those who share a religion with the people who committed the crime. What we don’t want is a backlash against anyone based on their faith or religion,” she said.
Camille Pizzo, an au pair who has been in Washington for 10 months, had similar views. She attended the vigil with a group of fellow French citizens. She said she followed Charlie Hebdo and was shocked at the killings.
“In 2015, how could this happen? You feel secure and then insecure. I really hope that people will make a distinction between Muslims and the extremists,” she said.
Charlie Hebdo, the weekly satirical newspaper where the killings occurred, has been a consistent critic of Islam and has been threatened in the past. In 2006, it was firebombed after reprinting inflammatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Five years later, it was firebombed again after publishing a caricature of Muhammad on the cover. Among the dead at the newspaper were editor-in-chief Stéphane Charbonnier and three other cartoonists.