Review: Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later

30 May

Last night, a friend took me to a screening of a movie like no other. Called Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later, it contains interviews with victims of the tragic precursor of what would be so many inexplicable and tragic mass shootings in the past twenty years. [Its webite is].
The movie begins with scenes of the train, going through urban and suburban neighborhoods—a scene similar to what hundreds of thousands go through every day. For some people, December 7, 1993, was an ordinary day at work. For others, it was just by chance that they took what became known as “the 5:33.”
Some read papers, others daydreamed, briefcases on laps, when, suddenly, according to one survivor, he heard four pops. People turned around and saw that a gunman had shot the person across from them. There was a mad scramble to exit the car-except for those who had tried hiding under their seats. Anyone who has commuted on a train knows how heavy the doors are, how narrow the platforms are between cars, how difficult it is to move. The gunman, later identified as Colin Ferguson, an embittered immigrant from an upper-middle class Jamaican home, hated whites, Asians, and conservative blacks—had time to go back to his seat to get another of the four magazines he brought with him. One woman, who was shot three times, prayed for life—but after the third shot she stopped praying. She was afraid of getting shot again and didn’t know if she wanted to live through that pain. Another woman, seven and a half months pregnant, was shot in the chest and feared for her baby’s life as well as her own. Another man remembers being spattered by the blood and worse of a young woman named Maria, shot in the head.
Family members spoke out, too. One man said, (and please forgive my memory if I get this or any other detail wrong—it was very emotional), something like, “Hey, I’m Italian. I think I’m a tough guy—I say, Bring It On. But there I was, holding my briefcase in front of my face. I couldn’t control anything.” This revelation shattered his pride, his sense of meaning, and took years to recover from. And yet, I found his action somehow deeply reassuring and human. No one who got on that train was expecting to be Superman. They were probably wondering what was in the fridge, or about their kids’ softball game, or any of the ordinary thoughts that mortals have. I felt deeply for his humanity, and I am sure I would have done the same. People like to read about “heroes” in these situations. It satisfies some longing for separating themselves from the situation (oh the heroes will solve it, it’s not my problem). The fact that almost everyone reacted the way you’d expect people to act when you shoot at them (run or hide) means that they are more like you and me in ways we can’t avoid.
The movie shares the perspective of police and medical workers, of the defense lawyer that the barely-sane Ferguson fired, and details the ludicrous farce of a trial where the guman, acting as his own lawyer, had a second chance to terrorize and anger his victims on the witness stand. It also shows the aftermath of the events. Family members spoke with aching love about their lost ones. They also spoke how they fought to move on. The Locicero family, who lost their daughter Amy Federici, work for organ donation causes. Carolyn McCarthy, who famously became a U.S. Representative, fought for gun control. Mi Won Kim said that she went to a doctor a few months later because she thought she would have a heart attack—her doctor reassured her that her heart pain was normal for wht she experienced. Mi Won said that she neer felt her old heart was the same—but that she learned how to “grow a new heart.”
At this point, I should reveal that the reason I was able to attend this powerful and moving event was because I was invited by Mi Won Kim, one of my dearest friends. I hope to write more about her in the future. Twenty years ago, I was her boss. My memory of the day she called me to tell me the terrible news about her sister Mi Kyung is burned into my memory. And I was awed at how day-to-day Mi Won fought to survive and struggle for joy and meaning in her life and become the beautiful, strong woman she is today. Back then, she was so young—in her early 20s—yet she was her family’s representative to the press and to the world. Her victim statement was articulate, powerful, and less vengeful than mine would have been. I felt like the Italian guy who said, “Just give me five minutes alone with him!”
My heart ached for her and all the other victims. Their suffering and their family’s suffering was very alive to me—coincidentally, my husband, who works in New Jersey, was connected with the Locicero family and saw their suffering, too. In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that toward the end, I was so moved by spending time with these honorable people—dead and live—whose only crime was taking the 5:33 that I burst into tears, and sobbed till the end of the movie.
The director, Charlie Minn, has made a powerful film that speaks to the reality of what it means to lose a loved one—or to be violated by—a madman with a gun. While he works hard to avoid being polemical, it is impossible to avoid noticing how little progress has been made in creating a safer country with even the tiniest steps toward limiting access to dangerous weapons to madmen.
The film did not come out and say this, but I found myself ruminating about it as I commuted—yes—commuted—home. I wondered why people submit to full body scans and taking their shoes off in airports because they want to be safe in the air—violating norms of bodily privacy that once seemed unthinkable–but once they are back on terra firma, apparently it is unpatriotic to suggest that allowing almost anyone to have a submachine gun might be even more dangerous than a nail clipper or a 7-ounce tube of toothpaste might be on a plane.
As we live our ordinary lives, each society makes its own set of rules for life in the public square. I love the idea of providing the maximum amount of freedom AND the maximum amount of safety. If I had to choose one of the two, I think I’d choose freedom. But the right to do certain things in public is always constrained—walking around naked. Picking your nose. Painting buildings with graffiti. Napping on park benches. Even smoking! Can owning guns that can injure or kill 25 people in less than two minutes—yes, TWO MINUTES–that’s all it took for this mayhem to shatter so many lives—at least be up for discussion? Could we find a way to provide a reasonable amount of freedom and firepower for those who love guns, but also a reasonable amount of safety for everyday people, like the ones whose fates were so twisted on the 5:33 twenty years ago–or at least maybe an extra 30 seconds or so to run?
One brief note at the end of the film pointed out that in the half year since the Sandy Hook Elementary School last fall, 5,000 men, women, and children have had their lives cut short by guns. Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later isn’t open for release yet. It is expected to come out closer to the December 7, 2013 anniversary. Sadly, by that time, they’ll probably have to change that statistic to reflect that 5,000 more people have died by gunshot.
Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later isn’t an easy movie to watch. But it is a fine, deeply human film, and I highly recommend it. If you have a chance, don’t miss it.

2 Responses to “Review: Long Island Railroad Massacre: 20 Years Later”

  1. donnaodonnellfigurski May 30, 2013 at 3:15 am #

    I, too, can not understand why it is so difficult to put into place more regulation on how one obtains a gun. I can only surmise it boils downs to dollars and cents – which makes no sense.

  2. fransiweinstein June 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    I think members of your senate are the ones who should see it. Of course the real problem is campaign finance reform. As long as politicos are on the NRA’s payroll there will be more and more movies like this.

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