Safety and SXSW: Was the Mohawk Tragedy a Tipping Point?
|L-R: Austin police chief Art Acevedo and St. David's pastor Rev. Katie Wright at Thursday afternoon's community prayer vigil|
First responders at the scene did everything just as they should have, and had in fact reportedly been drilled for just a scenario the week before. Midway through Thursday morning, SXSW announced that everything would proceed as scheduled, subject to the discretion of the individual venues. A prayer vigil was held Thursday afternoon at St. David's Episcopal Church downtown, just two or three blocks from the crime scene.
An emotional support center, jointly administered by the Red Cross, City of Austin and SXSW, was set up at the Austin Convention Center to, according to SXSW's Web site, "focus on providing counseling and emotional support to SXSW staff and volunteers, as well as residents or visitors who were impacted by the incident." But scanning social media late Thursday night, the showcases and self-promotion were again going full-steam, only this time mixed with condolences and a lingering sense of disbelief. A moment of silence was scheduled for midnight on Red River Street, almost exactly 24 hours before the crash, and SXSW announced the creation of the SXSW Cares fund to assist its victims.
Flowers and a card honoring Steven Craenmehr, a 35-year-old Dutchman who was one of Thursday's fatalities
All my love to music lovers and fans, stay safe tonight we love you— CREATIVE REBELLION (@ladygaga) March 13, 2014
The festival has already changed irrevocably. But both SXSW and City of Austin officials are far too consumed with the current one to even worry about the future yet; all they can do is guard against any more disasters this year, and hope people behave themselves. But in the months to come, both the festival and its home city of 27 years now are going to have to confront some serious questions about the price of having fun and the value of public safety, questions that SXSW's long streak of good fortune allowed both entities to postpone facing longer than anyone could have expected.
It's like the old saying: it's not a party until the cops show up. Now they definitely have. And no one, least of all me, is saying the party has to end. But the moment SXSW lost whatever innocence it had left arrived when when a late-model Honda sedan drove the wrong way down a one-way street, crashed through a police barricade and plunged into a crowd of unsuspecting people whose only crime was wanting to have fun.
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