Tuesday, November 01, 2005

West Village Halloween - the stampede you almost might have heard about

So.... Hi! guess what? what? - No.. I wasn't offered a speaking role in the new DeNiro movie. No, no.. I didn't sign a book deal, but good guess. No... ....I almost punched a policeman last night!
*** yes. very exciting, I know! Ok, fine. I didn’t almost punch a policeman, he shoved me and I yelled at him – does that count? No? Psssh.. Whatever, spoilsport.
Let’s rewind a bit. as in... to last night. to Halloween. It's no secret: I do not like the Halloween. It’s true. I wont go into why exactly, but needless to say, the following tale did not help me overcome said disdain for All Hallows' Eve.
*** After work, I went over to the girlfriend’s apartment – the girlfriend, as a matter of fact, was born with the name of Esra, and not “the girlfriend” so maybe that can be the last time I refer to her as “the girlfriend” .... but I digress (I know, imagine that, me digressing). She had just returned from a RollingStone.com sponsored concert for Katrina in Memphis (Katrina did not strike Memphis, it’s true, good catch! ..and go figure) and short on sleep, she needed to nap and needed to have an early evening so I, World Class Napper that I am, joined her in a nap. We woke, went out for excellent Turkish food on Houston and then bid each other adieu (yes, a lot of adieu’s lately, eh?). I took the F train from 2nd Ave two stops to my W4th St station, which, it being 8pm, was smack dab in the center of the West Village Halloween parade chaos time.
*** This is how far I live from the station. This is the route I had to go instead, due to police barricades and crowds - it took me 45 minutes to get to my apt. 45. As if for karmic retribution for my "cops standing around, doing nothing" piece I wrote the other day - they were in full effect, standing around, doing nothing while I and about a thousand other people got caught in a bottleneck created by police barricades - all the while cops stood watch to make sure no one escaped the pushing and shoving mob corralled onto the 7th Ave sidewalk and bottlenecked by the "enclosed extra restaurant seating" areas that jut halfway out from restaurants on 7th, into the sidewalk area.
*** Yeah, I've been in some bad crowds before, shoulder to shoulder type stuff where you dont so much walk as ride the mob sway and hope to the gods that you stay on your feet - which are barely touching the ground as it is, due to crowd density. Marches and protests on San Francisco's Market Street can get a little scary - the leading edges of crowds there always seem to get compressed by the rest of the mob behind them. Last night was similar but the real problem came from the sides, namely the shrinking sidewalk space caused by the restaurant 'extensions' and police barricades intended to keep the crowds from spilling out into the street. And so, as mobs will do, they pushed and shoved - those by the building-side, got shoved into the walls, those by the street side, got continually pushed into metal barricades. To combat this, and to make a little headway in my attempt to go ONE block, I started picking up the barricades and nudging them about 6 inches closer to the curb. With each pick-up and nudge, I opened a little more space for the crowd trying to force itself by (in both directions, mind you). And while it helped a little bit.. for a while, we got to a point where all the barricade nudging in the world wasn't going to be enough. The crowd was at a stand still, now bordering on panic, fully pissed off at the police for letting this happen and yelling "Go!" at the stalled crowd in front of them. And so... I ... well.. I opened the interlocked gates. I had assumed that a hundred or more people would by dying to back me up and follow me into the parking lane. I had assumed that the police might look the other way when this eventuality brought itself to bear. Nope. I tried to walk on but was met by a forceful cop hand to the chest that shoved me back into the mob and tried to close the gate. That would be about the time that I yelled at a cop. Yeah, not one of my finer moments, I know - but if you would have been there, and had the balls (or frustration, take your pick) to speak up about fire hazards and crowd control safety, you would have joined me in the yelling. Honestly, I kid you not and I exaggerate not, it was the most unsafe public stampede-in-waiting I've ever found myself in - not just a fire hazard, not just a mob/panic hazard, not just a terror hazard... but a totally unnecessary crowd control F up. How do I know? Because the cop I yelled at agreed with me. And the rest of the cops I passed in the rest of the half a block I had to go were all shaking their heads at how messed up the scene was. They had orders. They follow orders, it's what cops are supposed to do. And yet, one would hope that some cop, some human being with the ability to change things, might. I know, I know... naive, right? And no, I wont be comparing these cops doing nothing (to prevent a stampede) with German soldiers being complicit to the Holocaust atrocities... I mean why would anyone equate inaction with guilt and then stretch that analogy to an extreme level? ahem. ok, point made. (albeit, a heavy handed, macroscopic one)
*** And so... yes. simple metal barricades ON the sidewalk.. it was no mere pain in the ass. it wasn't an inconvenience. it was literally almost a mob stampede. at one point, i stood still for 5 minutes, penned in on all sides while people pushed and shoved and screamed that they were in pain. How much worse would it need to be to make the news? Am I surprised that it didn't make the news? Nope. Someone would obviously have had to die or there would have had to be dozens of major injuries to make the news. Is that an exaggeration? Hell no it's not. You know the news - bloodbaths make them, not a broken leg or pushing and shoving crowds caused by poor crowd control.
*** It's so unfortunate... I fear that all of the above will be trivialized as stupid whining about a silly little delay that a dense crowd caused and not a borderline-criminal mishandling of crowd control. Even if the news had been on the spot with cameras, even if the children in the crowd had been trampled, even if a hundred people write in to the newspapers and tv news to describe the mayhem, the fact is - 'no deaths, no news' and the cops will continue to stand around, doing nothing, because they weren't told to do anything different.

No comments: