A deadly gunfight in the middle of the most attended art fest in Trenton leaves a shaken city that has been working to regain footing from years of instability.
Father’s Day in Trenton was supposed to mark the celebration of the city’s burgeoning art scene. During this time, the city hosts, Art All Night, a 24-hour-event devoted to preserving the rich tradition of arts in an inner-city community that was beginning to bounce back from decades of of poverty, crime and violence.
Less than 11 hours into the event, the exhibitions of local art, music and good food came to an abrupt halt. The moment of peace was wrecked at 2:45 a.m. when gunshots rang out into a crowd of thousands attending the highly anticipated annual event on June 16, resulting in one death and multiple injuries.
Seventeen people were hit by the bullets of the three suspects: Amir Armstrong, Tahaij Wells and Davone White. The three men were involved in a gang conflict and decided to settle their dispute during Art All Night, ironically, a festival that also lauds the dramatic decline of violent crimes related to gang activity.
Most of those wounded were not involved in the dispute, or remotely gang-affiliated. Victims ranged from children to elderly. Among the hurt included Irving Higginbotham, a middle-aged attendee who suffered four gunshots to the leg. As well, a thirteen-year-old suffered injuries from the gunshots.
In addition, 12 more people were injured in the disarray of the panicking crowd that turned into a chaotic mob. As an ocean of startled attendees ran into the streets, more injuries occurred and even, car accidents. Trenton resident, Shacoya Howard recalls her daughter getting hit by a car trying to flee the event.
The art fest was held in the Trenton neighborhood of Chambersburg inside the Roebling Wire Works building, an area which carries a history of high crime rate and in particular, homicides. Gangs have also been a mainstay of the South Trenton region. However, it was deemed a safe space for the night.
Surrounding Wire Works are abandoned buildings and crumbling infrastructure, which made escaping the hail of bullets more difficult for the crowd.
Wells was killed by a police officer while Armstrong was arrested and hospitalized. 32-year-old Wells was the only suspect declared dead. According to The Trentonian, Wells was a member of the Bloods gang with a record of homicide. Recently, he and was recently released from prison after serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated manslaughter, and on parole.
23-year-old Armstrong had previously been charged for an illegally-owned firearm, while. 26-year-old White was later named a suspect and arrested. An attempted carjacking by gunpoint in the nearby area is also being investigated.
From Peace to Melee
Confusion, anger, fear, shock and sorrow filled Trenton residents who never thought that violence would happen at Art All Night. Asia Patman, a lifelong Trenton resident stated that the festival usually “was not dangerous”.
Since its inception, Art All Night was the only late night public revelry that carried a record of being so safe that people brought their families at all times of the day and night. While the event has not been a hub for trouble, law enforcement were highly visible because of the 30,000 people that attend.
Organized by Artworks Trenton, a nonprofit organization, the artists showcase brought people from all over, representing the diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds of the city and the tri-state area.
Lauren Otis, an executive director for Artworks Trenton has stated “we have to get through picking up the pieces of the past event before we think about the future.” Otis is unclear about the future status of the event though he and the other staff will fight to continue Art All Night. There is an air of optimism as Otis declares that “we have received an unbelievable amount of positive support and good will.”
In the aftermath of the event, there has been a call for stricter gun control laws by Governor Murphy.
Headline Photo: Art All Night’s silent disco presented bySound Off Experience. From Facebook Page of Art All Night.