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Last weekend’s mass shooting at a beloved LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was the stuff of nightmares. Late on Saturday – the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance – a 22-year-old walked into Club Q and opened fire, killing five and wounding more than a dozen others, police and witnesses say. The suspect faces five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, court records show.
The attack wasn’t surprising. It came at a moment rife with anti-LGBTQ animus. Across dozens of mostly Republican-controlled states, lawmakers have passed or introduced a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills this year. Further, this legislative assault has been accompanied by widespread discourse on the political right demonizing LGBTQ people and by physical harassment of the community by far-right paramilitary groups.
“We’re experiencing a crisis,” Kelley Robinson, the incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign, told Jim Sciutto on CNN Newsroom. “We’re seeing a range of political attacks and violent rhetoric against our community. All of that is fueling real-life violence. We’ve seen this play out at Club Q in a devastating way. But the larger context is that we’re seeing threats against Drag Queen Story Hours. We’re seeing attacks on trans youth. We’re seeing bomb scares at children’s hospitals.”
But the tragedy that shattered Colorado Springs fits into another pattern, too – an enduring US pattern of inflicting violence on or intimidating members of vulnerable groups, including Jewish Americans and Black Americans, at the places where they congregate.
After all, Club Q was no standard-issue hangout joint. In an interview with CNN, Tiana Nicole Dykes, a lifelong Colorado Springs resident, referred to the joyous haven as “a second home full of chosen family” where LGBTQ people could find escape and egress in a city that’s routinely been hostile to them – where revelers could celebrate life itself.
The Colorado Springs shooting is one recent illustration of how violence – or the threat of violence – can turn a place that was once a source of comfort for a particular vulnerable group into a site of fear, even anguish. Here are three others:
Police on Tuesday arrested a man wanted for throwing a brick at a New York City gay bar, VERS, on several occasions and charged him with criminal possession of a weapon, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, according to the New York Police Department.
No one was ever injured. But the incidents have deeply unsettled LGBTQ people in the neighborhood.
“One disturbing thing about what’s happening to VERS is this guy isn’t trying to break in. He’s doing this during business hours,” David DeParolesa, the owner of the bar, told the New York Times. “There’s an ominous feeling that this won’t cease, or that it could escalate.”
In recent days, many have pointed out the connection between anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and physical violence.
“Words are important. The words you use everyday are so important. They can cause so much love or hate,” Nic Grzecka, the owner of Club Q, told Don Lemon on CNN This Morning. “You might think that words are so small and insignificant, (but they can make) people do things that are hateful.”
Erik Bottcher, a member of the New York City Council, expressed similar sentiments on Sunday, at a rally at the legendary Stonewall Inn.
“You can draw a straight line to those murders from the hateful rhetoric and lies that have been spread about Drag Queen Story Hour, about transgender and gender-nonconforming people,” he said. “They know that these bars, these nightlife venues, are sacred spaces for our communities. For decades and decades, they’ve been the only places where we know without a doubt that we can go and be ourselves and be accepted.”
Two men – 21-year-old Christopher Brown and 22-year-old Matthew Mahrer – were arraigned on multiple charges over the weekend, according to court documents. They were arrested in connection with a threat against a New York City synagogue.
“As alleged, the two defendants possessed a firearm, a high capacity magazine, ammunition, an 8” long military style knife, a swastika arm patch, a ski mask and a bullet proof vest, among other things,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told CNN in a statement.
“A potential tragedy was averted when they were intercepted by police officers at Penn Station, given that online postings indicated an intent to use these weapons at a Manhattan synagogue,” Bragg added.
The incident arrived the same month that an 18-year-old New Jersey man was accused of making an online manifesto with threats to attack a synagogue, and weeks after the four-year anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting – the deadliest assault ever on Jewish people in the US. And in January, a man held four people hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas; the standoff lasted for 11 hours.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, warned about what he believes is ballooning hate in the US.
“There’s no question that hate is on the rise,” he told Erica Hill on CNN At This Hour, and added that antisemitism often goes hand in hand with anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
After the discovery of the most recent plan to attack a Jewish house of worship, New York Governor Kathy Hochul called for greater support “for communities that are potential targets of hate crimes.”
“Here in New York,” she said, “we will not tolerate violence or bigotry toward any community. We stand united against hate – today and every day.”
The 19-year-old man charged with killing 10 people and injuring more than a dozen others at a supermarket in a Black area in Buffalo, New York, earlier this year is expected to plead guilty to state charges, a victims’ attorney said last week, though his court appearance has been postponed.
This development in the May 14 mass shooting case is a reminder that, for many Black people in the city’s Masten Park neighborhood, Tops Friendly Market, where the carnage unfolded, is much more than a grocery store.
“Tops market was a place of community, a safe space for us to meet, to talk, to be together,” Phylicia Dove, a local business owner, told my CNN colleague Alaa Elassar. “There’s no one here who hasn’t visited this Tops. It was ours. Even if it wasn’t the best, it was ours, and now our safe space has been infiltrated and taken from us and that is something we are mourning.”
Martin Bryant, another resident, further explained the significance of Tops, which peacefully reopened over the summer.
“Tops was a big boost to the community. We actually had a grocery store to call our own. It wasn’t a convenience store like a 7-Eleven. It was a real grocery store. It made everyone happy,” he told Elassar. “Local leaders fought hard for it.”
Dove underscored the fear that’s seized many Black Americans in Buffalo and elsewhere in recent years, as vital community centers – such as historically Black colleges and universities and the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where in 2015 nine Black parishioners were gunned down during Bible study – have been scarred by terror.
“Where can we exist and be Black and safe?” she asked. “And if it’s not our grocery store or our church or any other place where we’ve been shot before, where do we go to exist freely?”