In the wake of last night’s anti-gay hate crime in New Bedford, the Marriage Equality Coalition of the SouthCoast organized a candlelight vigil at Puzzles bar, the site of the hate crime at 426 N. Front St. I drove over with Ann Fox, minister at the Fairhaven Unitarian Universalist church, and Lisa Eliot, the director of religious education at the Fairhaven church.
“What street number is the bar again?” asked Ann, who was driving. Just then Lisa pointed out the flashing blue lights: the police had blocked off N. Front St. for the vigil. We found a parking place within sight of one of the police cars, and walked a block to the bar.
Several people already had lit candles. I brought over 100 candles left over from our church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, and I began passing them out to anyone who wanted one. One or two gay couples felt safe enough to quietly hold hands. I saw the core members of NBPI, several ministers, and several Unitarian Universalists. The crowd kept growing, until I estimate over 200 people were present.
Right at 7:00, Andy Pollack from the Marriage Equality Coalition welcomed everyone, explaining that the Coalition organized the vigil because at the moment, they are essentially the only gay/lesbian political organization on the South Coast. David Lima, interim executive minister of the Inter-Church Council, gave the invocation. Then Andy introduced the bartender of Puzzles who was there at the time of the attack.
The bartender told essentially the same story you can read in the New Bedford Standard-Times Web coverage of the incident. He said what he witnessed was far worse than any horror movie, any gory slasher movie, that he had ever seen.
According to the bartender, the attacker came into the bar and showed an I.D. that said he was 23, though it now appears that was a false I.D. The attack started after the attacker had been in the bar long enough to have a couple of drink. The attacker struck his first victim from behind with a machete, and almost immediately the attacker was jumped on by the bartender and the other patrons in the bar. The attacker kept lashing out with the machete and a small hatchet that he carried; he was overcome by the others, disarmed, but then reached down and pulled out a 9 mm handgun, shot upwards at the bartender and another man who were on top of him. Everyone backed away, the attacker stood up, and then shot the face of the first man he had hit, and shot into the head of another man whom he had knocked down. The third shooting victim was a mentally challenged man in his early twenties who emerged from the restrooms at just that moment accompanied by his mother; the attacker shot him in the abdomen.
The bartender managed to get everyone out of the building, and went back in. As he went back in, the attacker grabbed him, put the handgun to the bartender’s head, and pulled the trigger; but the gun was out of ammunition. “That gun ran out of ammunition so I could be here tonight,” said the bartender, who cried intermittently as he told this story to us, “so I could be here tonight to tell you this story. He could not silence my voice! [cried of “yes” and “amen” from the crowd] We must not be silenced!” He urged us all to stand up and speak out against all hate crimes directed at gay and lesbian people.
Barney Frank was unable to be present, but he did send a statement which was read by one of New Bedford’s city councillors. Tony Cabral, state representative, spoke compelling about the need to be tolerant of all persons no matter what their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Bev Baccelli of the Marriage Equality Coalition spoke next, pointing out that while it is no longer OK to use words like “kike” or “nigger,” it is still considered socially acceptable to say “fag” or “dyke,” and this must change. Bev Baccelli also said that her office was getting calls all afternoon from news outlets across the country, and they all asked what kind of city New Bedford is; to which she replied, “New Bedford is just like any other city in this country. A gay man or a lesbian woman is harassed each an every day in some city somewhere in this country. New Bedford is just like your city.”
Mayor Scott Lang arrived a little late, so he wound up speaking last. He said the police and the city will not stop until the attacker is brought to justice. But, he added, we will have to do more than take care of the legal end of things. The city must come together and put an end to hatred of all kinds. Lang was very serious, and very compelling. Ann Fox gave a very short closing prayer, and led the crowd in singing “We Shall Overcome.”
I saw maybe seven or eight reporters scribbling in notebooks, and there were at least three video cameras; I know the Associated Press picked up this story, so watch national news media for coverage of this vigil. Also, I heard a rumor that the primary suspect, an 18 year old New Bedford man, has been apprehended, but this could not be confirmed — follow news media for more on that aspect of the story, too.