North Texas Daily

Event organizers to blame for Astroworld tragedy, not crowds

Event organizers to blame for Astroworld tragedy, not crowds

Event organizers to blame for Astroworld tragedy,  not crowds
November 18
12:00 2021

Watching the tragedy unfold at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival felt similar to watching a train wreck in slow motion. At first, information on the crowd crush only trickled out to the public, allowing the internet to take the scant few facts and run with them. Videos documenting the Houston music festival began trending on TikTok, many of them littered with sensationalism and misinformation. Like the concert itself, the noise and chaos within the narrative made it impossible to follow what was happening.

After hearing of the horror, people immediately began looking for a convenient culprit behind it. Given some of the crowd’s behavior leading up to the festival, it seems easy enough to cast the blame on concertgoers. However, it is important that we recognize the obscene negligence and lack of foresight demonstrated by festival organizers and venue staff. Even after the police informed them of the situation, it took nearly 40 minutes to stop the show. It was also reported that plans were never made for such a situation, and crowd control experts were not consulted.

During a crowd crush, individuals are packed at such a high density that some people may not be able to move or breathe. Each person is often supported entirely by those around them, and when one falls, many quickly follow. This can result in trampling or further suffocation. Those at the back of the crowd often continue pressing forward, unaware of the situation in front of them. Such crowd crushes have been known to exert upwards of 1,000 pounds of force.

Houston fire codes initially permitted a crowd size of 200,000 for this year’s festival, but authorities later reduced that limit to 50,000. However, fans quickly overwhelmed security checkpoints and fencing, surging into the festival grounds. Once it became impossible to monitor the crowd, the show should have immediately been stopped. Instead, 10 people are now dead and many more were injured.

Despite Travis Scott’s history of encouraging fans to overrun security, and despite a similar incident occurring at the same venue only two weeks prior, those in the crowd itself were the first to come under scrutiny by the media. News outlets and social media users began to characterize concertgoers as rowdy and unhinged. Headlines described attendees climbing and dancing on emergency vehicles, preventing them from reaching the wounded further in.

These behaviors cannot be condoned or defended at all. Impeding emergency services is particularly egregious. However, it is a stretch to imply that these account for the crush. Not only is it poor taste to blame a mass of people on the deviance of a select few, it also doesn’t line up with the findings by crowd psychologists.

The crowd crush was not a result of irrational or crazed behavior. Videos from Astroworld shows attendees attempting to crowd-surf injured people away from the crush or attempting to flag down staff in order to stop the show. These were rational people looking for help. Once the sea of people began to compress towards the stage, those trapped inside simply had no options.

Despite this, event planners and security firms have a long history of scapegoating the crowds in order to avoid accountability. When 11 people died at a show played by The Who in 1979, the media immediately derided the crowd as intoxicated barbarians. Criminal charges were never brought against the promoters.

Attempting to litigate against media companies in the wake of a crowd crush can prove inconsistent, according to a study by the Kentucky Law Journal. In 2015, only one state had passed crowd safety legislation, and ad hoc court decisions made decades ago do not reflect modern crowd science.

To combat this, laws and regulations must be created. Events with large turnouts should be expected to consult with crowd control experts and well-prepared security forces.If things still manage to go wrong, criminal negligence charges should be considered.

Once we begin to hold event organizers responsible, more care and thought will be put into the safety of our concertgoers, sports fans and holiday shoppers. Continuing to victim blame the crowds in these situations will only ensure that those responsible will never face true consequences. Hopefully, the investigation into Astroworld will prove productive in the long term.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Tanner Woods

Tanner Woods

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