On June 17th in Trenton, New Jersey, a gun battle broke out at an all night art festival, leaving one dead and 22 injured. This tragedy made national headlines, and while it was billed as another mass shooting, there is more to the story than is being revealed in any of the mainstream coverage we have seen.
The Trenton Art All Night event attracts large numbers of people, who come out to see the work of local artists on display and enjoy drinks and music long into the night. People who have been going to this event for many years think of it as a very chill, safe environment. The last thing anyone expected was for a gunfight to break out.
Details about the motive and the parties involved have not been made clear. The shooting began inside the building, though very near the front door. In some reports, it was preceded by a fist fight. At some point, someone pulled a gun and shooting started up. Perhaps multiple shooters. Many bystanders were shot, and one gunman ran out of the door. This is where the story gets interesting, and it is also where all other media coverage ends. I read one report that indicated that the only person to die from this incident was killed by the police, but the details of what happened after the shooter ran outside have not yet been reported.
It is only by a remarkable coincidence that Permagora came to cover this story. Before the shooting took place, we had already scheduled a visit to Trenton to interview Ed Forchion, the NJ Weedman. The shooting happened just days before we arrived, and when we talked with Ed about it, we were astonished to learn that he was at the Art All Night event and was a key witness to the violence that took place. The video he took with his cell phone after the shooting was over was one of the first videos of the incident to hit the web.
Forchion has been in the spotlight lately for his legal battle with the city of Trenton and Mercer County over his cannabis friendly restaurant and lounge, the Joint, located directly across from City Hall. The story of Forchion’s legal battle is fascinating, and we were there to cover the trying ordeal he has lived through, spending over a year in jail for the mere accusation of crimes of which he was ultimately acquitted. But when we learned that he was witness to the shooting, it was clear that we also needed to report on his account, which is highly relevant to the conversation surrounding shootings and gun violence.
Forchion drew us a basic map of the location where everything happened, explaining all that occurred step by step. The video of this explanation contains the bulk of his testimony, so you can hear his account in his own words.
In brief, Forchion left the building only seconds before the shooting began. He even took note of the altercation taking place, though they were only arguing as he went past. He was just outside when the shooting started, and the people milling about outside quickly stampeded away, followed by people rushing out of the building. Forchion positioned himself around the corner of the building, avoiding the crushing crowds, many of whom fell in their scramble and were injured by trampling. A group of police officers happened to be standing near the door when the shooting started, and Forchion recalls that the second round of shooting came from the police, who fired towards the door as an armed suspect ran out.
Two people were hit by the police, but the suspect was not, and he kept running. He ran right past Forchion’s position when the police opened up again, this time taking him down. While he was writhing on the ground, another police officer ran around to approach him from the opposite side. Forchion claims the cop was yelling at him to stop moving. The suspect’s gun was dropped and he was not going anywhere, but apparently the officer still perceived a threat, so he fired twice, in what Forchion says can only be called an execution. One of these shots ricocheted off the pavement and hit a woman near Forchion, who himself was downrange of the final two shots fired into the suspect’s chest. Tahaij Wells, who was identified as one of the gunmen from the original altercation, was the only person to die in this tragedy.
The critical aspect of the shooting that is being ignored in other stories is that of the 17 people who were shot that night, according to Forchion, five of them were bystanders shot by the police, one being executed after having already been hit. Forchion was not an eye witness to the initial shooting indoors, but he was close enough to hear it, and he described ten shots, all of which sounded like they came from the same gun.
“Something big,” he said. “Like a .357 or a .45.” He distinguished the first round of shots from all the other shots that followed, which were from 9mms. Official reports have not yet revealed how many shooters were involved in the initial incident, but Forchion believes it was ten shots from the same gun, many of which hit bystanders. Two of those injured inside had guns on them and were subsequently arrested, and it is believed that these were the intended targets.
We still don’t know what happened inside, but Ed Forchion’s testimony that five victims were shot by the police was left completely out of any mainstream reporting, even though he was cited as a witness in several articles. This raises a number of questions, not only about the Trenton Police Department’s use of lethal force, but also about total omission of this information in the existing media coverage. Perhaps they just haven’t gotten around to talking to witnesses, or perhaps they haven’t been given this information officially, but it seems strange that they would be branding this a ‘mass shooting,’ using phrases like ‘gunmen fired into the crowd.’ A quick glance at this story by the casual headline browser would make it appear that it was a bunch of gang members that shot up an art festival.
Obviously police departments don’t like news of them shooting bystanders to hit the headlines, and it's not hard to see why they would prefer the public to believe that all of the victims were shot by gang members, but this is most certainly not the case. Forchion’s testimony is not conclusive, but it raises questions that ballistics analysis can easily answer. Of the 17 shot, how many were shot by the police? Forchion alleges 6, including Wells. Why is this not part of the story?
Few will deny that we have a problem with police violence in this country. Certainly the Trenton incident is not a case of police initiating violence, but when several officers fire at one man running out of a crowded building, hitting four bystanders but not their target, it doesn’t look good. Most disturbing, Forchion remarked, was seeing Wells gunned down point blank, after he was already shot and writhing on the ground, his gun discarded. The final (and fatal) shots that took down Tahiji Wells were completely unnecessary, which only makes the fact that one of them ricocheted and hit a bystander even more appalling.
Eventually all the facts of this case will be released as a matter of public record, but by then many more tragedies will have occurred, and few will think back to the incident with much scrutiny. We have seen far more egregious cases of police misconduct, often caught on video, where the guilty parties escape entirely unpunished.
Unprofessional police actions are harmful to everyone, especially those who believe it is their duty to support and respect law enforcement. Many millions of Americans are radically opposed to the police state conditions that we see manifesting in our own home towns, and the cases reported on by outraged citizens who document police abuses are too numerous to recount. Yet cell phones and social media are the only reason we know anything about any of these incidents. If they get reported at all by mainstream news, it is typically with a slant towards protecting the police from liability, as we see in the Trenton case.
Accountability and transparency are essential for a free and just society to function. It seems obvious enough that we do not live in a free and just society, but if we want that to change, we must recognize the necessity of being honest with each other, and we must establish systems that don’t allow corruption to remain hidden. With increasing inter-connectivity of electronic devices and blockchain technologies, this is entirely feasible.
Another issue relevant to this case is, of course, gun control. An entire discussion would be necessary to even scratch the surface of that convoluted topic, which is far beyond the scope of this article. While many argue that this shooting is yet another example of why we need better gun laws, it is important to remember that the extended magazine used in the initial shooting was already illegal. Making guns illegal will not stop gun violence, any more than prohibition of drugs prevents drug use. If we want to address such deeply rooted problems, we are going to have to get far more creative than simply passing a law. Getting down to the core of our culture’s many problems is no easy task, and yet we are driven by necessity, on a crowded planet with finite and dwindling resources.
This is our work. Let us all continue to do what we can!