“How are you?” a woman in her mid-40s said as she pivoted into the wooden pew.
“Shitty. Aren’t we all shitty?” her friend replied.
Sunday night was no normal service for the Unitarian Universalist church near Central Avenue and McDowell Road. News cameras lined the back of the church as people wearing kippot and hijabs trickled in. The crowd arrived for an interfaith vigil to mourn the weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, one of which had occurred just that morning. The two mass shootings in less than 24 hours left at least 30 people dead and scores injured; both murder suspects utilized semiautomatic rifles with high-capacity magazines for their attacks. Both are white men, both United States citizens.
A woman sitting toward the middle, Dianne Post, the one who was feeling shitty, assumed an unconventional take on the traditional call-and-response. Pastor James Pennington of First Church UCC Phoenix, who was hosting the vigil, said, “This is not who we are.”
Post muttered, “Yes it is.”
As Reverend Katie Sexton, executive director of the Arizona Faith Network, exclaimed during her speech, “Say to your neighbor that hate won’t win, that racism won’t win,” Post raised her eyebrows and said, “Not too sure about that.”
She wasn't the only one who's tired of the rhetoric after mass shootings.
“I have to admit that I paused for a few minutes after getting a kind invitation this morning to join, to decide whether I should. What more is there to say?” said Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, one of the vigil’s speakers and founder of Arizona Jews for Justice. “And then I realized that’s what we call in Hebrew ‘yetzer hara,’ the evil spirit within me. That that’s how hate wins — when it exhausts us. We come here together because we dare not accept that mass shootings are acceptable.”
A moderator thanked the Phoenix Police Department for volunteering to keep watch over the service, adding, "And it's a sad state, for us to have to say that." Another speaker, Kristy Sabbah, office manager for the Islamic Community Center of Tempe Tempe Mosque and chairwoman of the Arizona Muslim Alliance, had returned from a visit to the West Bank with her family just 48 hours before the vigil.
“All of my family and friends here in the United States had told me, ‘Be careful; take care of your family. It’s scary over there,’” Sabbah said. “I feel that same advice is needed for everyday living here in America. We need to start holding elected officials accountable — you take NRA money, you don’t get our vote!”
“It’s the 216th day of this year, and we have already had 251 mass shootings,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said, addressing the church audience. “I am not here to offer prayers: We must demand gun control. We must demand investment in mental health.”
Each of these speeches was punctuated by a moment of silence. A cellphone rang during one. During another, a dog ran across the stage, bringing out smiles among the crowd.
Someone passed candles down the aisles, which were lit by the churchgoers. Members of March for Our Lives Arizona and Moms Demand Action read the locations and victims of each significant mass shooting from the last three years. That lasted a full six minutes.
“January 5, 2017, in Broward County, Florida. Five were murdered, and six were wounded.”
“February 14, 2018, in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen murdered, 17 wounded.”
“August 4, 2019 ...” Denice Murphy with Moms Demand Action paused. The next words were said softly, but firmly, through tears. “... just this morning. Dayton, Ohio, [nine] murdered, 26 more wounded.”
A final moment of silence took place before the vigil ended. Another cellphone chirped. The crowd laughed, candles still in hand, despite themselves.