By Peggy Taylor
Usually Times Square’s iconic red, glass staircase is the site of carefree tourists posing for selfies or Broadway theaters staging concerts to mark their comeback. But last night, a cold January night, the Red Steps became the site of a moving candlelight vigil where three hundred New Yorkers gathered to honor Michelle Alyssa Go, who was pushed to her death in front of an oncoming R train last Saturday morning.
Ms.Go was standing on the Times Square platform of the R and W subway lines, when 61-year-old Simon Martial, for no reason, pushed her onto the tracks in front of an oncoming R train. Martial, schizophrenic and with a long arrest history, turned himself in and said he killed Go because he was God.
Friends, public officials, and New Yorkers like me who didn’t know Michelle gathered at the Red Steps to mourn her death and seek some solace in being together. We didn’t know her, but we felt we did, as her wide, bright smile beamed down on us from a billboard (above) created and paid for by some of her friends.
I went to the vigil because Ms. Go was an Upper West Sider and I’m an Upper West Sider. I went because the platform where she stood waiting for the R train was a platform where I have often stood. I went because she rode a train which I often ride. I went because, had I been on that platform last Saturday morning, Mr. Martial could have pushed me.
Ms. Go, a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting, and a transplant from California, was ironically an advocate for the homeless. She eagerly volunteered and spent years working with the New York Junior League, which helps struggling New Yorkers stay on their feet.
Friends spoke of her generosity and swallowed back tears as they read their tributes from their iPhones. “She loved New York. We would talk about it in the pandemic that we would rather be nowhere else. She loved Central Park. She loved living on the Upper West Side,” said Kim Garnett, one of Go’s friends and coworkers at Deloitte.
The family issued this statement: “We are in a state of shock and grieving the loss of our daughter, sister, and friend. We hope Michelle will be remembered for how she lived and not just how she died. She was a beautiful, brilliant, kind, and intelligent woman who loved her family and friends, loved to travel the world and to help others. Her life was taken too soon in a senseless act of violence, and we pray that she gets the justice she deserves. Thank you for your condolences.”
Strangers left bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial, which featured two portraits with her smile shining as bright as the billboards of Times Square.
Public officials including Congresswoman Grace Meng, the Mayor, the Attorney General, the Lieutenant Governor, the City Comptroller, the City Council Speaker, the Public Advocate, with a written message from Senator Chuck Schumer, spoke of how the City had failed Michelle and how it owed it to her memory to provide more services for the mentally ill.
The founder of Asians Fighting Injustice and vigil emcee, Ben Wei took the City officials to task and said that their words would remain empty if the Asian community saw no meaningful reduction in anti-Asian crimes. [The memorial was organized by Asians Fighting Injustice, although it is not clear that the attack on Ms. Go was a hate crime since the perpetrator accosted a non-Asian woman, Maria Coste-Weber, before attacking Ms. Go.]
The Guardian Angels, led by Founder Curtis Sliwa, were there providing hand warmers and security. I spoke with an Asian cyclist, who as it turns out, lives in my building, but wanted to remain unidentified. She said she always bikes and carries pepper spray, because she’s too afraid to ride the subway.
Among the most powerful speakers was Alice Tsui, community activist and leader in the #StopAsianHateMovement. Also, a pianist, music teacher, and poet, she shook us to our core with her passionate poem, “We are Golden.”
After two hours, the vigil ended and we disbanded, uplifted even as we hung onto our sorrow. We left the Red Steps and headed for the subway, some for the Times Square Station, others, like me, for the 50th Street Station on the Number 1 line. As I crossed 47th Street, I saw the 47th Street Station on the R line.
How I wish that last Saturday morning Michelle Go had boarded the train there.
Correction: The memorial was organized by Asians Fighting Injustice.