To say that this has been a rough week here in the United States would be an understatement. With the events in Boston and West, Texas, the last thing we needed was more tragedy, but that’s what happened in Denver on Saturday.
Three people and a dog were injured at the Denver Civic Center Park when shots were fired at the 4/20 rally there:
“DENVER (AP) — Authorities are hunting for suspects after shooting broke out during a massive marijuana celebration in Denver, leaving two people with gunshot wounds…Witnesses described a scene in which a jovial atmosphere quickly turned to one of panic at the downtown Civic Center Park just before 5 p.m. Several thought firecrackers were being set off, then a man fell bleeding, his dog also shot.”
The sound of the shots caused the tens of thousands of attendees at the rally to flee. Reports from witnesses describe a chaotic, panicked scene:
Denver Channel – “Kyle, a witness who was next to the outdoor Greek theater when the shots were fired, said, ‘Lots of people had different ideas of what was happening. Some people were yelling ‘Explosion!’ some people were yelling, ‘Gunshots!’ We couldn’t really find if it was coming from the stage or from the side because there were just so many people literally just running at people.’”
“‘I didn’t see it, but I could hear ‘boom, boom, boom,’ and I could see everybody just trampling and running,’ [another] witness responded.
Washington Post – “Ian Bay, who was skateboarding through Civic Center Park when shots erupted, said he was listening to music on his headphones when he looked to his right and saw a swarm of hundreds of people running at him… ‘I sort of panicked. I thought I was going through an anxiety thing because so many people were coming after me,’ he said.
Denver Post – “‘Everybody started to run,’ Lee said. ‘They were running over people.’”
The rest of the festival was cancelled in response to the shooting. Police are currently looking for two suspects, though the descriptions are vague enough to be almost useless. Since everybody ran (a natural response), Denver police are having a hard time finding witnesses to the actual shooting. This is the description of the suspects that police are using for now, though it will probably be clarified as more witnesses are found:
“One man is described as a black male with a light complexion, who is 6-foot-tall and 180 pounds. He was wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, black pants, and a Carolina baseball hat. The second suspect is described as a black male who was wearing a black and white checkered shirt.”
Those descriptions could be anybody, and the police don’t even have a motive for the shooting at this point (though the case has apparently been turned over to the Denver Police Department’s Gang Unit), which makes it all the more important for witnesses to come forward. This event is a tragedy, but it could have been a lot worse. Denver police had been tightening security in preparation for Denver 4/20 events, so who knows what could have happened if the added security had not been in place?
Those aerial shots of thousands of people fleeing in panic naturally strike a chord of fear in all of us, but no one was killed, and the few injuries that occurred were minor. That’s something to be thankful for, especially because a stampeding mob of tens of thousands can often cause more injuries than the event that triggers it. Even the dog is going to be just fine.
As a result, the news coverage of the Denver 4/20 shooting has been relatively minor. Despite the terror of the fleeing crowds, it seems that the biggest consequence of the shooting (according to some news outlets) was a spoiled mood.
UPI reports (all emphases mine) that the “shooting put a damper on the first marijuana vacation tour in the country.” The L.A. Times says “gunfire erupted, injuring three and spoiling the mood,” while the Associated Press said that “the gunshots quickly dispelled the festive atmosphere.”
Contrast the word choice for the 4/20 shooting with these statements about the Boston Marathon bombing (all emphases mine, again): Fox News reports that the bombing “shatter[ed] a festive atmosphere several hours after the legendary race began,” and CNN says that “Candace Rispoli…was cheering on a friend when the festive atmosphere turned into a ‘terrifying hell.’”
So while the bombing at the Boston Marathon, an event that caused thousands of people to flee in terror, turned a once-safe public event into a “terrifying hell,” the shooting at a peaceful celebration in a Denver public park that also caused thousands of people to flee only “spoiled the mood.”
It’s a small difference, but I wonder if the media reaction to a shooting in a public park would have been as casual if the Denver rally had been for anything other than cannabis. Granted, the Boston bombing left many more people dead and injured than were affected by the Denver shooting, and it happened during the climax of a historic, venerable sporting event. I’m not trying to diminish the horror in Boston; quite the opposite. But the terror was present in Denver too. The people running from Civic Center Park didn’t know that only a few people would be injured. They didn’t know if there was a bomb, multiple gunners, or worse:
“Stephanie Riedel, who traveled to the pot celebration from Pittsburgh, said she was dancing with a hula hoop when she heard pops. A man ran past her, then she said the crowd started screaming and running away. She was about 20 feet from the shooting and heard four or five shots.
‘I couldn’t make sense of what it was at first,’ she said. ‘We were all having a good time and I was in the mindframe of, we’re here at a peace gathering. I thought it some guys playing.’”
Back in Boston, survivor Candace Rispoli continues:
“I personally will never participate in an event of this nature in a city in fear that something like this could happen again,” she said. “I keep replaying the moments of terror over and over in my head and am just still in utter shock. Always seeing terrible things of this nature happen all over the world on TV, my heart would always go out to those directly affected. But I never imagined in a million years I would be a spectator at the Boston Marathon running for my life.”
Like Candace, my heart also goes out to those directly affected by violence. The people celebrating legal cannabis at a public park in Denver didn’t think they’d be running for their lives on Saturday. Terror is terror, and people should be able to gather in public without fearing for their safety, regardless of who they are or what they’re celebrating. Last week was a week full of tragedy in the United States. Let’s use this week to remember the victims and support the survivors of Boston, West, Denver, and everywhere else that experienced tragedy last week.