|Police tape still surrounds the Roebling Wire Works|
in Trenton after last Sunday's shooting at Art All Night
Since 2014, Bloomberg has put his money behind ending gun violence by bankrolling Everytown For Gun Safety; the non-profit that campaigns for gun control laws across the U.S.
With the Republican-majority House and Senate refusing to draft legislation to strengthen gun laws and control the loopholes that put illegal guns in the hands of people who shouldn't have them, the need for grass roots organizations like Everytown For Gun Safety, and it's associated groups Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has never been more urgent.
By now, the standard script for leading Republican politicians in Washington following horrific mass shootings is all too familiar; meaningless "thoughts and prayers" followed by the pious insistence that new laws restricting access to firearms aren't needed in America - "we just need to enforce the existing laws."
Laws which Republican politicians constantly undermine at the behest of the NRA and the gun lobby.
But with a staggering 6,795 Americans having been killed by firearms this year already, it's clear to most people that those laws are not being properly and consistently enforced.
Case in point: the terrifying shooting that took place at the annual 24-hour Art All Night festival in Trenton, New Jersey early last Sunday morning; one of the preeminent arts festivals in the Delaware Valley area that attracts as many as 20,000 people from 3pm Saturday when it opens, to 3pm Sunday when it closes.
|I snapped this photo of an artist creating|
glass designs at Trenton's 2017 Art All Night
After moving back east from Los Angeles in 2011, my mom originally told me about the 24-hour festival that celebrates creativity, art and brings diverse crowds of people and a much-needed safe and engaging sense of nightlife to downtown Trenton - and I've been attending Art All Night since 2012.
Last year, after touring the hundreds of paintings, murals, sculptures and displays featuring crafts like live metalworking and glass blowing, I left the festival just after 2am clutching a styrofoam container full of takeout Caribbean food from one of the many food trucks and vendor stands parked just outside the massive Roebling Wire Works building where the event takes place.
My last memory of being at Art All Night last summer is still vivid - a warm, humid evening with the sounds of a band playing onstage filling the area, as I strolled out through the crowds (some still coming in at 2am) to the parking lot with a light rain starting to fall.
Not to be overly dramatic, but over the past few days I keep thinking about the fact that last year I was leaving at just about the same time that the shooting last Sunday morning took place.
This past Saturday night I actually had every intention of going to Art All Night, but I had problems with my internet service after installing a new cable modem I purchased.
After about 30 minutes on the phone with an Optimum Online tech support guy, he figured out the issue and reset my internet service, but I had to disconnect the new modem I'd bought and installed, and then reconnect the old one.
At that point I was frazzled and just wasn't in the mood to get dressed and drive into the city because I'd worked that day, had gone to the gym, and was just feeling too turfed - I figured I'd try and go Sunday morning instead.
|Art All Night Shooting suspects Tahij Wells, 32,|
and Amir Armstrong, 23; Wells was killed by police
The shooting outside Art All Night made national headlines, and while the incident itself is still under investigation, some strange information about what happened before the shooting has surfaced.
According to news reports, Mercer County prosecutors are investigating a Facebook post that appeared hours before the shooting warning people not to go to Art All Night because "They will be shooting it up."
On Tuesday afternoon I watched a TV news update on the investigation on WABC-Philadelphia while I was at the gym, the reporter said that the woman who posted that message is a school teacher here in Hamilton, NJ where I live.
Apparently, she'd left the area and driven down to North Carolina before the shooting happened, but it's still not clear how she knew there might be a shooting at the festival - she did speak with the Mercer County Prosecutor's office and has also apparently retained an attorney.
Like many, I'm curious to know why a school teacher wouldn't contact the police (or the organizers of Art All Night) if she had some kind of knowledge that a shooting was going to take place in a crowded public place.
And how did she know about it in the first place?
My mom has been attending Art All Night for years, and she was there earlier last Saturday evening until about 10pm with my sister about four and a half hours before the shooting happened.
She said there was definitely conversation inside the venue about groups of young guys wandering through the crowded festival who looked a little suspicious - multiple reports have said Trenton PD had asked festival organizers to shut down the event earlier than usual because the mood was supposedly turning dark.
Investigators are now saying the shooting was some kind of local neighborhood beef over gang territory, and that's really sad because Art All Night is one of the bright spots of a sadly-neglected city with a rich history that's been decimated over the years by loss of a once-vibrant manufacturing sector that used to support a thriving middle class in Trenton.
|The Roebling Wire Works building in Trenton|
where Art All Night is held each year
So-called "rust belt cities" where the decline of middle class communities was brought about (in part) by the closure of large industrial manufacturers who required vast pools of labor - employers like the massive Bethlehem Steel operations in the Lehigh Valley.
In the same way that steel produced in Bethlehem, PA helped to fuel America's war effort during World War II (Bethlehem Steel's 15 shipyards around the country produced 1,121 ships for the U.S. Navy in WWII, more than any other company), Trenton's Roebling Wire Works also had a lasting footprint on American industry and culture.
The Roebling Wire Works building where Art All Night takes place (pictured above), was originally one of seven different buildings that made up the massive Roebling Steel Co. complex in Trenton.
The enormous strands of woven steel wire strung between the massive towers of the Brooklyn, Golden Gate and George Washington Bridges were all manufactured by Roebling Steel in Trenton.
From a geographic standpoint, Trenton was well positioned to become an industrial hub with it's proximity to the more than 130 miles of nearby canals offered by the Delaware & Raritan and Delaware Canals - and of course it's position right next to the Delaware River.
As Kelsey Wojdyla reported in an article for the Trenton Times, starting with the first gristmill built by Mahlon Stacy in Trenton back in 1679, the city forged a reputation as an industrial hub that eventually produced everything from iron, steel, and rubber, to flour, pottery, fine ceramics, cement and candles.
The influence of Trenton's industrial manufacturing sector expanded well beyond the Delaware Valley region and northeastern United States to impact the country as a whole.
|Steel manufactured in Trenton is in the dome of|
the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.
As were components for the cockpit of the American-made P-51 Mustang fighter plane which helped turn the tide of WWII for the Allied effort to defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan - one of many items produced in Trenton for WWII in the 1940's.
The Trenton Iron Company, once the largest iron manufacturer in America, produced wrought iron beams for the U.S. Capitol dome, as well as the Treasury building in Washington, D.C.
So the five buildings that remain of the Roebling Steel complex aren't just structures, they serve as remnants of a past era when Trenton supported thousands of manufacturing jobs - monuments to America's days as a global industrial power.
The fact that one of those buildings has now been repurposed as a public events space where thousands of people from all over the Delaware Valley can come to celebrate art and bring a much-needed sense of life back into the city is one of the things that makes the shooting last weekend such a tragedy.
Something as petty as a senseless feud over gang territory overshadowing the efforts that go into making Art All Night a success is an unfortunate blow to the ongoing efforts by citizens, politicians, business owners, clergy, teachers, police officers and volunteers to transform and revitalize Trenton as a city worthy of being the state capital of New Jersey.
A city with access to mass transit that can start to lure working professionals back to the inner city, and with them the critical tax revenue that's essential for funding the kinds of city services that are that are the basis for any successful and thriving urban center.
|A photo I took around 1am inside Art|
All Night back in June, 2017
According to the latest data from GunViolence.org, as of June 23rd there have been 142 different mass shootings in the United States.
But the number of bills passed by the Republican-majority Congress to control gun violence stands at zero.
Republican politicians who refuse to pass new federal gun control legislation argue that existing gun control laws need to be enforced.
But New Jersey already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, and as Democratic Governor Phil Murphy noted last week in the wake of last week's shooting, the "iron pipeline" continues to bring a flow of illegal guns to New Jersey.
As the editorial board of the Newark Star-Ledger observed in an editorial back in May after Murphy held a press conference with Gabby Giffords announcing new measures to control gun violence in New Jersey, 77% of the guns used in crimes in this state come from other states - particularly Pennsylvania where gun control laws are far more lax.
Those guns arrive via the "iron pipeline" that brings weapons purchased in states with lax gun control laws (and Republican-majority state legislatures) like Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania up the I-95 corridor where they're then sold and purchased illegally without any kind of federal background check or oversight.
As the Star-Ledger editorial reported:
"Just this month, New Jersey cops arrested a Pennsylvania man for trying to sell an AK-47 [assault) rifle, three AR-15 rifles, high-capacity magazines and more than 100 rounds of ammunition to buyers here."
Fortunately, with a Democratic Governor now in office, New Jersey politicians are working on bipartisan measures to close the loopholes in gun control laws put into place by former NJ Governor Chris Christie to improve his standing with conservative American voters in other states.
|Gabby Giffords with NJ Gov. Phil Murphy (right)|
announcing new gun control measures in May
And he only reluctantly signed S2483 into law in January 2017 in the final months of his last term in office after the Democratic-controlled state legislature threatened to override his veto of the legislation supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
But in the meantime, Republican lawmakers in Washington refuse to act to close gaps in gun control laws.
As long as they refuse enact to pass legislation to close loopholes that put illegal guns in the hands of those who shouldn't have access to them, people will continue to be killed and injured.
And remember, a staggering 6,795 Americans have been killed by firearms and 12,858 injured this year already - and it's only June.
In the wake of these horrifying instances of terror, one of the most common reactions heard from bystanders, witnesses, relatives of the victims or members of the community where mass shootings have taken place is both sad and prophetic:
"I never imagined that it would happen here."
But within the past year, especially among some of the students whose schools have been the site of mass shootings, more and more the phrase being heard is, "I knew it was only a matter of time."
There's something deeply troubling about that kind of grim resignation that extreme gun violence is now simply a part of the American landscape.
|People enjoy some of the paintings at Art All Night|
Personally speaking, those kinds of thoughts have passed through my mind as I watched or read news coverage of the Art All Night shooting - incidents which occur with such startling regularity these days.
As a current resident of Hamilton, New Jersey, and as someone who's lived in the Mercer County area on and off for 33 years, I have no illusions about the challenges facing Trenton.
With limited tax revenue for properly-funded public schools, after-school programs, youth job initiatives and even libraries, it's not surprising that shootings and gang activity have been an unfortunate part of the landscape of the city of Trenton for decades.
But those incidents don't have to define Trenton, or the people who live and work in the comunity.
And neither will right-wing assholes like NRA-TV host Grant Stinchfield - who had the nerve to theatrically (and Trump-ishly) dismiss Trenton as a "hell hole overrun by gang violence" in a video commentary after the shooting last week.
The enduring success and popularity of Art All Night is proof positive that art can be a catalyst for meaningful positive change in a community facing so many socioeconomic challenges.
In five months the midterm elections take place, and Americans will have the chance to elect politicians to Congress who will have the courage to pass laws that will shut down the kinds of loopholes that currently allow illegal guns to flow into Trenton through the "iron pipeline" along the I-95 corridor that runs along the east coast.
That would be an important step towards revitalizing Trenton and helping it to once again become an attractive destination to live, work and play - to help it to thrive in the way it once did years ago.
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, people will be able to look back and point to Trenton as an example of how art can be both transformational and healing.
For both the city, and the people who live there.