At a news conference Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy addressed Sunday’s Trenton Art All Night Festival shooting that left one suspect dead and 22 people injured in an outbreak of violence that police say was gang-related. The man killed was identified as an ex-con freed in February after serving time in connection with a fatal shooting and gang-related activity.
Murphy: The headlines have shocked all of New Jersey. Gang violence is an all too stark reality on too many streets in New Jersey and I’m not going to turn my back on Trenton. I’m committed to working with the mayor and the mayor-elect, the council, with community and faith and county leaders and with my partners in the legislature to turn this city around and ensure a safe and growing place for families to live in peace. This is a wonderful and resilient community that needs champions. The organizers of Art All Night are champions for Trenton. We need that event and events like that to bring this community together. The thousands of peaceful festival goers are champions. The community leaders working hard to bring peace to the streets are champions. And I will be a champion for Trenton as well.
Senior Correspondent David Cruz spoke with former Artworks Trenton board chair and longtime festival volunteer James Peeples.
Cruz: We are here at the Championship Bar because this is an important part of the arts community in this city.
Peeples: That is correct. Championship has been a stop of the Art All Day tour, which is another aspect of what Artworks does in terms of bringing arts to the community to the city of Trenton. So when I got a call saying they wanted to do an interview, I wanted to find a spot where we could sit and talk, and the people at Championship have been graceful and gracious enough to open their doors and have us sit here and have this interview.
Cruz: So on Sunday you left around 1 a.m. You got a phone call from someone about what had happened, and what was your reaction to that?
Peeples: I cried. Art All Night to those who are involved with it, to those who have been a part of it, is like a family member, and the people that put it on are family members. The arts community here is very tight and the people here support each other and love each other and have worked really, really hard over the last 12 years to put together, what I think is the best arts and cultural festival that happens in the Delaware Valley.
Cruz: You said you cried, because, not just because this terrible thing happened, which was terrible, but you had to be thinking of that larger picture too, no?
Peeples: Thinking of the larger picture. In the past I have worked for the committee that puts on Art All Night. I’ve been in charge of the security for Art All Night, I did that as a team leader for six years, so I knew the impact upon the people that are the committee that are in there that know that there’s been death and destruction happening on their watch. It happens everywhere, but when it happens and you’re directly impacted by it and you actually get a chance to see it, my tears were for the people who were injured and who lost their lives. But my tears were also for the people who are going to survive this and are going to have to find a way to rebuild the community.
Cruz: I feel a little bit like the air was let out of something because, you know, there aren’t a lot of events that you can point to in this city that say bang, that’s Trenton right there. The Trenton that is and the Trenton that could be. Do you feel like that a little bit?
Peeples: The air that was let out of the balloon at that point in time definitely was a huge letdown in that people in the community have been saying, ‘why Trenton, why did this have to happen, why did this have to mar this one event?’ This was the one shining thing that we had. People have lamented that there have been other things that have happened in the city, there was the Heritage Days Festivals and there were other festivals that have happened in the city, and Art All Night had come to supersede all of those things in terms of what it did in terms of bringing cultures and peoples together to celebrate art and the diversity of the community. So there was a little bit of air that was let out of it, and everybody is trying to catch their breath right now. They really, really, once they do catch their breath, I think that air will be revitalized.
Cruz: We spoke to the governor this morning, he said that it’s more important now than ever for this event to continue.
Peeples: That is great to hear, to have a governor that wants to be involved with the things that are going on in the city of Trenton, to have someone who wants to be connected with the things that are going on in the city of Trenton. That’s a definite change from the previous administration. So if he’s willing to help us out, if he’s willing to give us an opportunity to make sure that we can ensure and assure that everyone will be safe, then yes governor, please come to the city of Trenton, show up, make sure we make this event happen next year.
Cruz: Do you feel like this event is forever changed?
Peeples: No, I don’t feel like the event is forever changed. There will be people who will mark this as a year of very major significant, but I believe that in the future we will find a different way to carry forth the same message of doing a 24-hour arts festival in the city of Trenton that brings the same energy and that brings the same vibe and the same love.