Three hours ago, news broke there was a murder on the streets of Manhattan near the Empire State Building — and shots were fired right across the avenue from the CUNY Graduate Center:

A gunman was fatally shot by police after opening fire near the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan. Nine people were injured and one of the victims was declared dead at the scene.

The shooting occurred at 9:03 a.m., and began near the intersection of 33th Street and 5th Avenue.  NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly identified the shooter as 53-year-old Jeffrey Johnson. He was armed with a .45-caliber handgun that was concealed in a black plastic bag.

Johnson was a disgruntled employee, who had been fired a year ago from his job as a designer of womens accessories for Hazan Imports, located at 10 West 33rd Street. He confronted a former co-worker, a 41-year-old woman, and fatally shot at her three times, including once in the head.

These sorts of killings are becoming ordinary and commonplace in America, but this murder aims just a little closer to the heart because Janna and I teach American Sign Language at the CUNY Graduate Center on Fridays — it’s a small, but not insignificant, blessing for the CUNY community that classes don’t begin until Monday — and that should mean there are no classes in session and students and faculty are not in full force on campus yet.  Mayor Bloomberg and the Police Commissioner used the CUNY Graduate Center as their crisis communication base.

When the gory details of the shootings are revealed — we already know wounded bodies were found block-by-block and we’ve heard the story of a woman who was shot through the window while standing in line inside the Duane Reade drugstore across from the CUNY Graduate Center — and it all makes you shudder and it all becomes too honest and too real and too familiar to be idly abided.  This isn’t the movies or Virginia Tech or Omaha.  This is my home.  My street.  I walk the pavement where blood was shed in fury and horrible fascination this morning, and it sickens me.  I can taste death in the air.

Now what?

Nothing will happen to help prevent this sort of killing in the future. We’re all deathly resigned to having random shootings in our lives. The price of living free in America now means accepting the fact that someone else’s bullet can end your life on a whim you cannot anticipate or control. New York City has tough gun laws and mandatory licensing and registration for all handguns — and yet this sordid sort of public murder still happens on the streets of New York.

This morning’s killings just proves, once again, that hatred and malice unequally infect all our lives, and the sad notion of our miserable living together requires coming to terms with the reality there’s no place left to hide.


    1. I was in the area — but not right in the area. Really scary stuff for the innocent people. That corner is a massive tourist hub. The Empire State Building is RIGH THERE. Tons of people everywhere. You couldn’t really fire a shot to stop someone and NOT expect to hit some people because, at that time of the morning, the sidewalks are packed with crowds of bodies walking five abreast.

    1. It is sort of terrifying knowing how close the bullets were flying in that small area. One thing about those streets is that the tourists are always there — sort of lost and wandering and crowded — looking around and not paying attention. If shots where fired, most New Yorkers know to get on the ground or run in the opposite direction — but tourists probably don’t recognize the sound of shots being fired or they think the shots are a part of some other experience.

        1. Right! Stay away from crowded urban streets filled with tourists! As an everyday event that’s dangerous enough because they are in the way, don’t know the flow of the street, and they are incredibly vulnerable to people with bad intentions.

  1. You two were the first on my mind when this hit the news. I was wondering about your proximity to the area, and to my chagrin you were much closer than I’d feared.

    1. Way too close for any feeling of comfort, Lillian. As my wife said this weekend, “That sort of thing makes you not want to get out of bed in the morning.”

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