Trenton’s people are strong, unfortunately because they are given so many occasions requiring strength in order to cope.

We’re in the national and international headlines this week, because of what happened at Art All Night early Sunday morning. One dead, a score injured. By gunfire, the 21st-Century’s equivalent of cholera, typhoid, smallpox, or plague in earlier eras: fearful scourges periodically visited upon the public at large that we only know how to contain – more or less – not cure.

Attention is already fading. The injured have been treated. Some have already been released from hospital, and the worst injured have had their conditions upgraded from critical to stable. As the circumstances and motives of the shooters begins to be seen more clearly, there’s been a collective sigh of relief that this was not a deliberate act of mass assault by a mentally-ill “lone wolf.” There’s even more relief that this was not, God forbid, “Terror.”

Tell that, by the way, to the hundreds of people who scrambled for their lives Sunday morning, or who were locked in place for hours while police secured the Roebling Works, making sure there was no further and imminent danger from other gunmen. They were pretty terrified.

The shock and outrage over what happened this weekend, that’s propelled this shooting to front-page news, is due primarily to the venue at which this crime took place. Art All Night is an event that showcases the best of Trenton: its wide range of artistic creativity across all kinds of expression, and a positive energy that propels this annual celebration for 24 hours once every year. It’s one of a very, very few high profile events which draws crowds of visitors into Trenton from all over the tristate region. For the previous 11 years, it’s been produced without serious incident, certainly without the kind of violence seen Sunday night. Something like this wasn’t supposed to happen at Art All Night. Certainly no one who was there expected anything like it.

It’s an Art Show, for goodness’ sake!! There are no gun battles at the Met, or the Whitney, or the Museum of Art in Philadelphia. That’s not supposed to happen! That explains all the headlines. That explains all the attention. The incongruity of bullet casings and police crime scene tape strewn about alongside murals, sculptures, and oil paintings is too vivid not to end up on the news. Until its place in the news cycle is replaced by some new outrage or horror, no doubt.

In Trenton, though, this particular incident will linger in our thoughts and – hopefully – our actions, because it’s both so singular and so typical.

Singular in that this was the first time that one of the marquee annual public celebrations in Trenton has been marred by this kind of violence. Over the last day we’ve heard and read that this incident will doom Art All Night, as the crowds who’ve visited the city attended in years past will stay away in droves. Other voices quietly say that we need to continue producing this event, showing that the City won’t be intimidated by a single incident.

Me, I think that as long as there is a need for Art All Night – and I think there is a great need for it – it will continue. The event began as a way for the arts community in this city to publicly share their work once a year, with each other and with the public, to re-energize their own individual creativity and celebrate their community in Trenton of fellow artists. If the event is smaller for the next couple of years because of lower attendance, that will probably be ok. Art All Night started out as a basically Trenton-only event, which built a reputation over the years that attracted visitors from all over. If it happened before, it can happen again. No one will soon forget what happened at the 2018 Art All Night, but I think people will move on. There will be Art All Night in the future. Perhaps smaller for a while, and surely safer, at least indoors. But I think the DNA of the event will be the same.

In a larger sense, what happened Sunday morning is all too typical of Trenton. If the accounts available this morning are correct, then the violence broke out between groups of people who knew one another, perhaps even falling under the all-encompassing but sometimes awfully vague label of “gang-related.” As such, Sunday’s incident is all too familiar. Over the last few years, Trenton’s citizens have seen all too many shootings that have been just as shocking, if not as attention-grabbing as the one at Art All Night.

Remember in 2014, there was a shooting at the church funeral of a man who himself was shot and killed in a street attack attack that left two others wounded. I can’t think of anything more outrageous than shooting up a funeral, at a church, no less. But the carnage there was far less severe than Sunday morning’s, thank goodness. Dense crowds at the Roebling Works provided a ready environment for multiple casualties, whereas the 2014 shooting at Galilee Church took place outside the service which was attended by around 100 persons, who all remained safe.

The folks who run the website Trenton Homicide Watch are kept plenty busy with the news of murders and their legal aftermath. And those stories only cover the occasions in Trenton in which people perish due to acts of desperate violence. Other occasions on which persons are “merely” wounded often don’t get many column inches to tell their tales. The only people who know about those are often the victims, perpetrators, and their families. These incidents often don’t make the Trenton Times, let alone the New York Times. But they are part of the daily background noise of life in Trenton. Seen in that light, what happened at Art All Night is less shocking and less unexpected to those who live here, remarkable in the degree of injury and violence rather than kind.

National attention will fade after the weekend, and we will once again be on our own to face the frequent and continuing outrage that fills our lives in Trenton. Sadly, there will be no shortage of funerals for those dying prematurely at the hands of others;  and a steady supply of mourners grieving their loss. Just as outrageous, if not more so, is our ongoing coping with this as the normal course of life in Trenton. At the very least, this past weekend shows us what the rest of the world sees when they infrequently turn their attention our way: shock and sadness.

Art All Night, I think will continue in future years. With increased attention to safety, the hope and expectation being that we can prevent future outbreaks of violence such as this weekend’s. At that event, at least.

The hard work will be to reduce the number and severity of all the other acts of violence, of large and small scale, which the people of Trenton daily endure, well outside of the national spotlight. This is where the future of this City and its people will rise or fall.

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