NEW YORK — Hundreds of mostly French-speaking New Yorkers held pens aloft at a rally Saturday to insist on freedom of expression while decrying a deadly terror attack on a Paris satirical publication.
The demonstrators braved below-freezing temperatures in Washington Square Park, where a leather-clad pole dancer gyrated in a provocative display meant to reflect the over-the-top cartoons in the magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The dancer's live soundtrack came from a concert grand piano hauled into the Manhattan square for the occasion as she twirled under a sign that read "Je suis Charlie."
French for "I am Charlie," the words have emerged as a global rallying cry since two gunmen with assault rifles killed 12 people Wednesday at the Paris headquarters of the magazine. New York organizers said they were showing solidarity with the French after three days of violence that, all told, left 20 dead, including three gunmen.
Olivier Souchard, a French-born New York resident who brought his family and friends, explained the fierce support for freedom of expression that drove Charlie Hebdo's images of the prophet Mohammed.
"What we are afraid of is less freedom for more security, it's muzzling," Souchard said.
Making a fist and tapping it over his heart, Souchard added, "Satirical cartoons are essential to us, they're essential to France. We were raised with great cartoons, but you Americans don't like to hurt people with cartoons — but you should hurt people!"
He said he's been in touch with his friend Philippe Lancon, a Charlie Hebdo columnist who is recovering from surgery after being shot in the face in the attack.
The publication is known for racy cartoons skewering religious and political figures, including ones that depicted Muhammad naked and in demeaning or pornographic poses.
In France on Saturday, hundreds of thousands gathered in cities from Toulouse in the south to Rennes in the west.
A massive demonstration is planned for Sunday in Paris, where an additional 2,000 police are being deployed amid heightened security. Leaders of Britain, Germany, NATO and the Arab League are among dozens of world dignitaries expected to attend.
In Manhattan, Bill Nevitt, a New Yorker married to a French-born woman, was scanning the crowd of all ages, some of whom also expressed support for Muslims.
"The world needs something like this," he said, his voice breaking, with tears running down his cheeks.
He said people should "get together and fight what this is all about; religion shouldn't drive people apart, religion should bring people together as one God, as one people, and we should be together in this."