A ‘brief scare’ in Central Park

Jessica Ruderman

Sixty-thousand audience members fled the Global Citizen Festival after hearing ‘phantom gunshots’ in Central Park Saturday, Sept. 29.

What was originally identified as a fallen barricade that caused the chaos at the annual festival, the distressing sound has since been confirmed to be drink bottles ‘popping,’ resembling the sound of gunshots.

“To those who were injured or frightened by this experience, we sincerely apologize,” CEO of Global Citizen Hugh Evans said in a statement after the event. “We recognize how traumatic this was for many of you.”

Concertgoers closest to the stage immediately began to flee after the sound was heard, causing a stampede of confused people to follow. Although many were unsure as to why they were frantically fleeing the venue, rumors of a gunman and mass shooting spread like wildfire through the crowd, causing an aggressive mass to push forward without mercy, yelling things such as ‘get down’ and ‘run.’

“Everyone was scared from the moment that they started running to the moment they were crying on the stairs of the museums,” concert attendee, Stephanie Levy said.“I knew what to do and my friend knew to yell ‘get down’ because it’s happened before. It seemed familiar, that’s just what happens.”

[media-credit name=”photo contributed Cailey Ruderman” align=”alignright” width=”500″][/media-credit]Stephanie attended the eight hour concert with her twin, Skylar, their mom and their friend. Their entire party was seated on the grass in the back area of the park when the commotion began. The group immediately had to jump to their feet and grab their belongings to evade the oncoming crowd.

“When everyone else is running for their lives, you are enveloped in the chaos,” Skylar said. “Walking toward the exit was not an option. It was either run or be trampled.”

Amidst the sudden disorder, police attempted to bring the park to a calm state by taking the stage. Although it may have been the intention to restore peace, assistant chief with the New York Police Department (NYPD), Kathleen O’Reilly did anything but clarify the situation in the moment.

“Please everybody stop. Everybody remain calm,” O’Reilly screamed over the crowd according to various video coverage. “Try and open up that fence in the back and we’re going to get people out. Please everybody try and remain calm and move backwards. Don’t push forward, try and exit back.”

It wasn’t until later when NYPD News tweeted out the believed source of the sound at the time, the falling barrier, were people informed of what happened.

“There was an officer on stage while I was approaching the exit and by the time I made it out an officer was just on stage saying ‘calm down’ but they never specified why,” Stephanie  Levy said. “We made it all the way out of Central Park and blocks away towards Port Authority when we started to hear things.”

Global Citizen is a movement of engaged citizens that use their collective voice in efforts to end extreme poverty by 2030, according to the official site. Political figures, celebrities and the average citizen alike take part in learning about the systemic causes of extreme poverty, take action on those issues and earn rewards for those actions. Every member is a part of a global community committed to lasting change.

Some of the highlighted people that spoke or performed at the New York version of the festival were Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Jeff Flake, Michelle Obama, Robert Di Nero, Chris Martin, Cardi B, Shawn Mendes, John Legend, Janet Jackson and The Weeknd.

After some of these people were escorted off of the stage after the initial hearing of ‘gunshots,’ Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay and nominated curator of the festival until 2030, assisted O’Reilly and NYPD officers in calming the crowd by ensuring that everyone was safe. He then pronounced that when everyone was ready, the show could go on again.

For many, the way both the organization and the media chose to react to what could have been a very tragic event did not foot the bill. Fordham University junior finance major, Taylor Willwerth, another attendee of the festival, felt that the choice in wording detracted from the severity of the situation.

“I think out of respect for those affected, Global Citizen should have taken greater action in ensuring everyone’s safety instead of resuming the concert,” Willwerth said. “Continuing the concert sent the message that the performances were more important than helping all the confused, battered, and scared people who had run for their lives to escape. I cannot imagine going back into the park after the chaos of the stampede of people evacuating.”

In an informal poll conducted by The Chronicle, Quinnipiac students reflected on the current mentality of society to associate large gatherings of people with the potential for harm.

Out of 42 participants, 71.4 percent of people identified that the prospect of an active shooter does cross their mind when attending large events. In addition, 54.8 percent agreed that incidents such as mass shootings have affected their decisions to partake in these kinds of events.

In regard to Quinnipiac, an almost unanimous 95.2 percent voted that they felt safe at Quinnipiac events while also recommending ways for the school to be more precautionary. Some of these suggestions included random car and backpack checks, and having public safety officers present at more areas on campus, especially at high threat events such as controversial speakers.

As shootings become more prevalent throughout the country, instances such as these have begun to alter the mindset of Americans to become prepared for when things go wrong.

“I think the reason people were so scared from the popping water bottle noise is because we know how common shootings are in public places,” Skylar said. “Even though it was just a scare it forces you to consider how real that situation could have become. In the future I will definitely be aware of the exits at concerts and mentally prepare an escape route.”

Although a shooter was not present at the Global Citizen Festival in New York, it does not deter from the possibility that situations such as this could occur and have been continuously.

“If someone was planning on doing something, even in the moment of hecticness when no one knew what had happened or hadn’t done anything, that would be the moment for something like that to happen,” Stephanie said. “It shouldn’t take people dying to make the headlines. It should take something like this to promote keeping people safe.”