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The mass shooting at a popular LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado last weekend was the stuff of nightmares. Late Saturday – the eve of Transgender Remembrance Day – a 22-year-old entered Club Q and opened fire, killing five and injuring more than a dozen others, police and witnesses say. The suspect faces five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of prejudice-motivated felony assault, court records show.
The attack came as no surprise. It came at a moment full of anti-LGBTQ animus. In dozens of mostly Republican-controlled states, lawmakers passed or introduced a record number of anti-LGBTQ laws this year. Furthermore, this legislative attack has been accompanied by widespread discourse on the demonization of LGBTQ people by the political right and physical harassment of the community by far-right paramilitary groups.
“We’re going through a crisis,” Kelley Robinson, the new president of the Human Rights Campaign, told Jim Sciutto on the CNN Newsroom. “We are seeing a range of political attacks and violent rhetoric against our community. All of this fuels the real violence. We watched this game at Club Q in a devastating way. But the bigger picture is that we’re seeing threats against drag queen story hours. We see attacks on trans youth. We see bomb alerts in children’s hospitals.”
But the tragedy that rocked Colorado Springs also fits into another pattern — an ongoing US pattern of terrorizing members of vulnerable groups, including Jewish Americans and black Americans, in the places where they gather.
After all, Club Q wasn’t a standard meeting place. In an interview with CNN, Tiana Nicole Dykes, a lifelong resident of Colorado Springs, described the happy sanctuary as “a home away from home full of chosen families” where LGBTQ people could find sanctuary and escape in a city routinely hostile to them – where night owls could celebrate life itself.
The Colorado Springs shooting is a recent example 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 place of fear, even fear. Here are three more:
Police on Tuesday arrested a man wanted for repeatedly throwing a brick at a New York gay bar, VERS, and charged him with criminal possession of a gun, criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. according to the New York City Police Department.
Nobody was ever hurt. But the incidents have deeply unsettled LGBTQ people in the neighborhood.
“One disturbing thing about what’s happening with VERS is that this guy isn’t trying to break in. He does this during business hours,” David DeParolesa, the bar’s owner, told the New York Times. “There’s an ominous feeling that this isn’t going to stop or that it might escalate.”
In recent days, many have pointed to the link between anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and physical violence.
“Words are important. The words you use every day are so important. They can evoke so much love or hate,” Club Q owner Nic Grzecka told Don Lemon on CNN This Morning. “You may think that words are so small and insignificant, but they can make people do hateful things.”
New York City Council member Erik Bottcher expressed similar sentiments at a rally at the iconic Stonewall Inn on Sunday.
“You can draw a clear line on these murders from the hateful rhetoric and lies propagated about the Drag Queen Story Hour, about transgender people and gender non-conforming people.” he said. “You know these bars, these nightlife spots, are sacred spaces for our communities. For decades, they were the only places we knew with absolute certainty that we could go, be ourselves, and be accepted.”
Two men – 21-year-old Christopher Brown and 22-year-old Matthew Mahrer – were charged with multiple counts, according to court documents over the weekend. They were arrested in connection with a threat against a New York synagogue.
“As claimed, the two defendants possessed, among other things, a firearm, a high-capacity magazine, ammunition, an 8-inch military-style knife, a swastika arm patch, a ski mask and a bulletproof vest,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said CNN in a statement.
“A possible tragedy was averted when they were intercepted by police officers at Penn Station, as online postings indicated intent to use these weapons at a Manhattan synagogue,” Bragg added.
The incident came the same month that an 18-year-old New Jersey man was accused of writing an online manifesto threatening to attack a synagogue and weeks after the four-year anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting – the deadliest attack ever on Jews in the United States. And in January, a man in the Beth Israel Ward in Colleyville, Texas, held four people hostage; The standoff lasted 11 hours.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, warned of what he says is fueling hatred in the US.
“There is no question that hatred is increasing,” he told Erica Hill on CNN At This Hour, adding that anti-Semitism often goes hand in hand with anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
After discovering the latest plan to attack a Jewish place of worship, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called for more support “for communities that are potential targets of hate crimes.”
“Here in New York,” she said, “we will not tolerate violence or bigotry towards any community. We stand together against hate – today and every day.”
The 19-year-old man accused of killing ten people and injuring more than a dozen others at a supermarket in a black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York earlier this year is expected to plead guilty, an attorney for the victim said last week, although his court appearance has been postponed.
This development in the case of the May 14 mass shooting is a reminder that for many blacks in the Masten Park neighborhood, Tops Friendly Market, where the killing took place, is much more than a grocery store.
“Tops Market was a place of community, a safe place where we could meet, talk and be together,” Phylicia Dove, a local business owner, told my CNN colleague Alaa Elassar. “There is no one here who has not visited these tops. It was ours. Even if it wasn’t for the best, it was ours and now our safe space has been infiltrated and taken from us and that is something we mourn.”
Martin Bryant, another resident, further explained the importance of Tops, which peacefully reopened over the summer.
“Tops has been a huge boost for 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 has gripped 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 nine black parishioners were shot dead during 2015 of Bible study dejected – marked 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 we’ve been shot before, where are we going to exist freely?”