Culprit in Fatal City College Stampede Was The Crowd Itself With AM-Tyson-Stampede
NEW YORK (AP) _ Victims’ relatives blamed police, who blamed college administrators, who blamed promoters, who blamed police. But in the circle of recrimination that followed the deadly stampede at City College, almost no one pointed at another culprit: a crowd that spawned a beast.
The beast was something more and something less than the 3,000 to 5,000 individuals who showed up for the rap stars’ basketball game in Harlem on Dec. 28.
The beast smashed glass doors leading to the gym building, surged past ticket collectors and ″bum-rushed″ those in front, piling hundreds of innocents into a suffocating heap at the bottom of a staircase.
The beast bent a light pole in front of the gym building; it pestered rappers for photo ops and autographs in the morgue of the gym floor, distracting those who were trying to help the injured; it laughed and joked outside amid the despair; it robbed the dead.
The beast was personified by the gang of rowdy youths at its heart, but it grew along with the panic and terror they instigated. It behaved disgracefully before, during, and after the crush. It killed nine people.
Those who saw the beast that night will never forget it.
Lynette Delane was waiting in line outside the building. ″A bunch of guys said: ‘Let’s push 3/8 Let’s push 3/8’ People just started falling and getting smashed. ... No one cared. They wouldn’t stop pushing.″
William Kirksey was among the rushers who fought his way in behind some rap stars. ″Everybody was doing, ‘One, two, three - push 3/8’ We were getting in, we was moving.″
First the crowd filled the lobby, then it pressed down on hundreds of people waiting in the stairway leading to the gym door.
″I saw people climbing over other people to get inside,″ said Joie Binns.
The stampede continued downstairs on the gym level, where Ayo Harrington cowered for safety in a ladies’ room stall with her 11-year-old son and two of his friends.
″All around, people were bum-rushing into all the entrances and exits in the hallway,″ she said. ″I didn’t know what that word meant before, but I sure do now.″
Latisha Johnson tried to revive an unconscious woman, but the stranger’s pulse faded away. Finally Johnson went to tell the master of ceremonies the woman was dead. When she returned to the body, the woman’s shoulder bag and leather coat were gone.
As people were carried out on stretchers, recalled Victor Black, ″kids were going and mugging for photos with the rappers. They were trying to get their autographs while people were dying.″
In the end, the beast really had many faces. But for the most part the tragedy it created was treated like a fire or a water main break: possible to contain, impossible to avoid.
Investigators and journalists examined the precautions and reactions of police commanders, ambulance dispatchers, college officials, rap promoters, student leaders.
At least 100 police and security personal were on hand, but a rap security expert said there should have been a guard for every 30 spectators - a more rigorous ratio than that for guards and inmates in most units of the city jail.
″Everyone acts as if it was a cattle stampede, that these people were nothing more than objects to be managed,″ complained Richard Vigilante, editor of The City Journal, a public affairs periodical. ″You hardly ever hear leaders in New York asking people to behave better, as if it would be quaint to do so.″
One prominent exception was the Rev. Al Sharpton, an activist not known for criticizing fellow blacks. He walked up the steps of City Hall and said:
″We are ashamed of those young people (who) conducted themselves in a way that hurt innocent young people.″
He accused ″the unsavory characters within our own community″ of ″a grievous and shameful act.″
At a funeral two days later, he spoke wistfully of ″a time when we had to come in not through one door, but in the back door. But we didn’t stampede each other.″
Sharpton found an echo at the scene of the crime, where a poem was taped on the dirty glass of the big lobby window.
The signer, Kerome, mourned the loss of ″young, strong, powerful, precious African lives...
″Lives taken - not by enemies
″Not by flawed security
″But by us who didn’t look out for each other
″By us who didn’t think about the African lives at the bottom of the stairs.″