NEW YORK — Some of the most powerful moments in New York City take place on nights that are uniquely beautiful. Such was Monday night, a 70-degree evening that was cool with a quick wind and twilight dragging on far longer that it should. This was the kind of night where you rise from the subway, and the distinct puffiness of the clouds grabs your attention and lets you appreciate the expansive sky for an extra second before joining the bustle of a crowd all heading in one direction. On a gorgeous night like this, the masses could be going to a surprise free concert in the park or to catch a particularly good view of the sunset. But just a day after a gunman murdered 49 people at the Pulse nightclub before being killed by police in a shootout, every person that made their way to the West Village knew exactly what they were heading towards and why they were going.
Stonewall Inn, the site of the beginning of this country’s gay rights movement in 1969, continues to serve as the backdrop for moments both joyous and agonizing in the history of the LGBT community. When New York passed the Marriage Equality Act in 2011, people celebrated around the small bar that started the fight all those years ago. A year ago, when the Supreme Court granted the same privilege for gay and lesbian couples across the country with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, they did the same. On Monday, the city gathered to mourn 49 members of the Latino and LGBT communities who were senselessly gunned down in an act of hatred and homophobia.
That word repeatedly came up throughout the night. Senseless. Because how else do you describe something so horrific, so astonishingly cold hearted, so stunning in its massive loss? Groups of friends, coworkers, and couples huddled together in the crowd as people slowly moved towards the podium (where Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio would be speaking) or to the other side of the block to stand near the iconic face of Stonewall with its red neon sign, Christmas lights, and rainbow flags dripping from the overhang. Everywhere you turned, the single word filled every conversation.
A group of men — all of them having lived in New York for decades and, as such, are intimately familiar with these types of gatherings — huddled together near the old brick Northern Dispensary building on the corner of Stonewall and Waverly. Chad Thompson felt mostly saddened by the events on Sunday. “It’s heartbreaking, senseless.” That word again. “Hopefully everyone wakes up and doesn’t forget to celebrate all of the lives that have been lost.”
Another member of the group, James Eden, was more impassioned by the shooting than his friends. His comments reached towards ferocity like the leaders who would speak later in the night. “All we can do is keep going. Not being afraid to go to pride. Not being afraid to go to clubs. I have friends who work at clubs who are afraid.” His voice rises and reaches an emotional pitch. “We have to keep going to congressmen. Keep going to the NRA. No one needs to own an assault rifle ever.”
As the masses packed closer together on the narrow streets of Greenwich Village, assault rifle ownership was on many minds. Not specifically because it was the weapon the Orlando shooter (and San Bernardino shooter, and Sandy Hook shooter, and so forth) used to carry out his attack. But because the thought of a gun being able to inflict that much carnage in such a short time naturally rises to the front of people’s thoughts when a large group is gathered to mourn those gunned down en masse.
Amidst the conversation about their partner’s day at work or a friend’s weekend plans, there are murmurs about safety. Not outright concern or panic, more like the passing musings that someone might have about an upcoming vacation.
“Do you think it’s safe to be out here?”
“These measures seem good enough.”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
It’s the same way that people spoke and acted following the Boston Marathon Bombing, on edge and unsure of how loose they should feel in the same type of packed area that was so easily prone to attack once already.