The BBChave been reporting on the crush deaths of members of the public attending a New Year’s Eve fireworks event in the Ivory Coast [link here]. I first heard about the tragedy when listening to the radio and heard the newsreader use the term “stampede” in relation to the crushing. The Guardian uses the same verb. Let’s look at what appears to have happened:
a fireworks event was held at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium which has a capacity of around 65,000. As the event ended, the flow of people leaving the stadium was either obstructed by barriers or came into contact with another group of people arriving at the stadium. Whatever happened, the flow of people appears to have been abruptly obstructed and the pressure of the crowds continuing behind resulted in the inevitable crushing injuries which, as at the time of writing this post, are reported as approximately 62.
The risks of crush injuries in the pressure of crowds moving into and out of events is all too well known. Even in UK, many deaths have happened in these circumstances:
- Ibrox football stadium 1971: 66 deaths – crush on a stairway
- Valley Parade football stadium 1985: 56 deaths – narrow and obstructed fire exits
- Hillsborough disaster in 1989: 96 deaths – failure of crowd management lead to a crush
And in Europe:
- Heysel stadium disaster in 1985: 39 deaths – failure of crowd management associated with disorder
- Love Parade distaster 2010: 21 deaths – mismanagement of crowd routing leading to severe crush
None of these disasters were described by the British media as “stampedes”, even though they appear to have very similar characteristics to the Ivory Coast disaster, fundamentally, a failure on the part of the event organisers and crowd control to protect innocent people coming out to enjoy themselves in what they consider to be unexceptional and safe environments.
So, when do the British media use the term “stampede”? Answer, usually in relation to reports of failures of event safety in parts of the world where people have darker skins, such as the Chhath disaster in India last November; in Beirut and Pakistan and Afghanistan in September; and inevitably whenever there’s a crowd surge at the annual Hajj in Mecca. Oh, and there was one reference to a stampede in Madrid, but they’re all swarthy folk too, the Spanish. And the other thing that inevitably accompanies any report of a so-called stampede is a photo of shoes left behind, almost as evidence that human beings were behaving like animals and getting away on their toes.
I believe it’s time to stop dehumanising tragedies where innocent people are killed and injured because those who should be ensuring the safe movement of crowds and access to and egress from events have failed in their duties. We dehumanise innocent victims when we accuse them of “stampeding” when they’ve been caught in a crush. It’s time to stop failing to point the finger of blame where it should go – onto organisers and authorities.
The word “stampede” blames the victims, not the negligent.