A Personal History of Public Violence

Find perspective is one way to process the randomness of public violence

Could the shooting at the Kansas City Super Bowl celebration have been prevented? The short, tragic answer is no. Whenever there is a large gathering, be it in a public square, a sports stadium or even just a theater, those in attendance run the risk of getting caught in the middle of a melee. In the wake of the recent tragic event in Kansas City, I searched my memory and was surprised to come up with a number of instances where I was in a crowd when violence erupted. What follows is my personal history of public violence.

Summer, 1966, Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY. The New York Mets were playing the San Francisco Giants. In those days, whenever the Dodgers or the Giants came to town to play the Mets, thousands of fans of those teams when they played in New York would fill the stands to cheer and reminisce about the old days. 

At this particular game I was in the upper deck with my family when a drunk, former New York Giants fan sitting in the row in front of me got into an argument with a current Mets fan sitting in the row in front of him. At one point, the Giants fan threw a punch that missed the Mets fan. But his momentum, and the fact that he was drunk caused him to lose his balance and he toppled about three rows down, landing on an unsuspecting woman. The people with the woman, then proceed to pummel this guy until stadium police came and restored order.

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Summer, 1979, The RKO Keith’s Theater, Flushing, NY. The Warriors, a cartoonish movie about street gangs running riot all over New York City opened to much media fanfare and concern that it would incite riots. The Keith’s was one of those lavish movie palaces from the 1920s that had a grand staircase leading up to the balcony. On the opening night of The Warriors as I was walking up that staircase with a group of friends, a wave of punks leaving the previous showing came crashing down the steps fighting with each other. We got jostled around a bit, but then continued walking up the stairs unaffected by the event, in fact we viewed it as evidence that, “this movie was gonna be good!”

Summer, 1998, Shea Stadium, Flushing, NY. I actually took part in this fight, though calling it a fight is a bit of a stretch. This jerk was trying unsuccessfully to get everyone in our section to do the wave. He was standing right in front of me blocking my view and when I told him to get out of the way. He got right up in my face and started shouting at me. I don’t know what made me do this, but he was wearing a baseball cap and, using my right index finger, I flipped the cap off of his head. What followed was like that bible story, “Samson and Delilah”. With the cap on he was “mister tough guy”. As soon as it was off he grabbed the top of his head and scrambled after it. Once he put it back on his head he became Samson again and came towards me shouting. When he got within range, I flipped the cap off again, and, true to form he lost all his courage and scrambled for it again. By this time, a more sensible fan in our section got the attention of a stadium cop who sized up the situation and then hauled the guy away. I got off with a warning. 

There are a couple of more incidents I could add, but I think these three make the point clearly. No risk management protocol can offer total protection at a public event. It’s impossible to control everything. But it is important to have protocols in place. Because in two of the three incidents there was security around to minimize the damage. That’s really the best we can hope for.

Any thoughts, opinions, or news? Please share them with me at vince@meetingsevents.com.

Photo by Max Titov on Unsplash

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