The Astroworld Tragedy: Stop This Victim-Blaming Narrative

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“I already know nobody in this comment section was at Astroworld tryna blame Travis Scott for [something] that wasn’t his fault; it was the management and the crowd.” 

“Why are kids attending [Astroworld] anyways?” 

“This isn’t the artist’s fault, nor security or the camera guys. It’s y’all. Literally. You chose to go. You chose to stomp on your fellow festival-goers. You chose to do that. Y’all chose to be there. Blame the people doing the stomping.”

These are the types of comments flooding the Twitter thread of Travis Scott’s response to the tragedy that occurred at the Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas on November 5th. One would think by reading these tweets that the users were rebuking the actions of some mischievous adolescents who purposefully broke the rules. One wouldn’t think that these users, in seeking to defend Scott, were essentially blaming the eight deceased and dozens of injured Astroworld-goers for their own fates after getting caught in a crowd surge. 

Children and young adults died at an event they believed would be a lifelong memory. Those victims include 27-year-old Danish Baig, 23-year-old Rudy Peña, 23-year-old Madison Dubiski, 21-year-old Axel Acosta, 21-year-old Franco Patino, 20-year-old Jake Jurinek, 16-year-old Brianna Rodriguez, and 14-year-old John Hilgert. The list grows longer when you consider those who were injured; Kristian Paredes Madeline Eskins and Emily Mungia were all left with permanent and severe bodily injuries. All of these victims took the time to purchase tickets, pack up their belongings, press pause on their personal obligations, and travel to Houston in order to see their favorite artist. All of these victims had no idea what was about to ensue. All of these victims cannot and must not be blamed for their actions.

Crowd surges and crowd crushes during music performances are travesties not unknown to human history. In 1979, 11 people were crushed to death in a Cincinnati, Ohio concert by The Who. In 1989, pushing security and popular panic led to 96 deaths by human crush at the Hillsborough soccer stadium in England. Elphinstone Road station in Mumbai, India had a stampede that resulted in 22 deaths in 2017. A collision of two crowds during the 2015 hajj in Saudi Arabia resulted in 2,400 mortalities. Events such as these have helped chart the science behind crowd crushes – one that signifies the blamelessness and terror the victims of said events face.

When one is swept into a crowd surge, one can become “gradually compressed, unable to move, [with] heads ‘locked between arms and shoulders…[and] faces gasping in panic” as the UK inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster reported. The most likely causes of one’s death in these instances are traumatic asphyxia or crushed asphyxia rather than trampling or other ailments. As Stan Choe describes, “When a crowd surges, the force can be strong enough to bend steel. It can also hit people from two directions: one from the rear of the crowd pushing forward and another from the front of the crowd trying to escape. If some people have fallen, causing a pileup, pressure can even come from above. Caught in the middle are people’s lungs.”

The crowd surge cannot be the fault of the individuals in the crowd itself, however. Former research engineer and author of “The Causes and Prevention of Crowd Disasters” John Fruin explained that individual control is lost in a crush as “one becomes an involuntary part of the mass. At occupancies of about 7 persons per square meter, the crowd becomes almost a fluid mass. Shock waves can be propagated through the mass sufficient to lift people off of their feet and propel them distances of 3 [meters] or more.” These shock waves can, in turn, create “intense crowd pressures” that cause anxiety and thermal insulation, which then cause fainting, creating a domino effect of people sinking into the crowd. “Access to those who fall is impossible,” Fruin concludes. 

Being a part of the mass essentially takes away all rationality and latitude as the shock waves in one’s position determine how one moves and where. Thus, the public must instead place blame on those who organized the event for neglecting to follow standard safety protocols. Visiting Professor of Crowd Science at the University of Suffolk in England claims that crowd disasters all boil down to the design of the event: making sure that the size of the crowd doesn’t exceed safety guidelines, that there’s enough space for people to move, that security is aware of the energy of the crowd, and that there is enough emergency personnel. The organizers are the ones responsible for providing a safe environment that will prevent such disasters from occurring.

The organizers at Astroworld failed this responsibility. The lessons from previous similar disasters – like ensuring that correct safety information is shared, setting up pens with fencing, diverting participants to exits – were ignored. This was a highly preventable tragedy. Yet, people were found rushing through the VIP entrance (and injuring at least one person) without consequence. Medical personnel was so overwhelmed that audience members had to take on the duty of performing CPR. Police also claimed that the event was understaffed. Security, camera operators, and even Scott himself ignored pleas from the crowd to “stop the show.” People started “going down” at 9:30 pm, and the show ended at 10:10 pm. Scott was reported saying in response to those wanting to halt the show: “Who asked you to stop?”

Evident by the over 12 lawsuits against Travis Scott, Live Nation Entertainment Inc., and Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, the organizers are the true culprits. Don’t blame the victims. Don’t blame the harmed crowds without autonomy. Blame those who could have prevented what occurred on November 5th from happening in the first place.