When concert safety consultant Paul Wertheimer first saw video from Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston, where at least eight people died Friday during a crowd surge in Scott’s set, his conclusion was based on decades of experience.
“This was preventable. The crowd was allowed to get too dense and was not managed properly,” he said. “The fans were the victims of an environment in which they could not control.”
Wertheimer has been leading the charge for concert safety since 1979, when he was an on-site investigator the night 11 people were trampled to death at a Cincinnati concert by the Who. He compiled the post-concert report on the failings, including festival seating, that led to the deaths, and across the next four decades has advocated for crowd safety measures through his company Crowd Management Strategies.
In 2000 at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, when nine people were trampled to death at a Pearl Jam concert, Wertheimer consulted with the Danish government on preventive solutions. He’s testified in civil suits against concert promoters and security companies. As the decades have passed, Wertheimer has come to an unfortunate conclusion.
“Life is cheap. Young people are still exposed to the extreme dangers,” he said. The main reason being that “the people who organize and approve these events are not held criminally liable for gross negligence. And as long as promoters, artists, security, venue, operators and city officials who approved these plans are not held criminally liable — this is going to drone on.”
The Who, Pearl Jam and Travis Scott tragedies all share a similar trait: so-called festival seating. A first-come, first-serve approach to ticketing, it replaces reserved seats, or any seats at all, in favor of a shoulder-to-shoulder, general admission experience. Those who have been to a festival in the last three decades, be it Coachella, Stagecoach, Bonnaroo or Woodstock ’99, have partaken in festival seating. Legendary ’60s concerts Woodstock and Altamont utilized festival seating, but even in the early 1970s its use was rare enough as to warrant a mention in reviews.
Festival seating offers fans willing to line up early the opportunity for closer views, and the space in which to dance or, at a Travis Scott concert, to mosh. For promoters such as Astroworld’s Live Nation, festival seating means more tickets sold. Wertheimer said that a seat might take up 6 square feet of space; a packed event such as Astroworld might only allow for 2 square feet of room per person.
Crowd-control measures have improved since 1979. Goldenvoice’s Coachella, held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, separates its main stage pitch into grids divided by heavy iron barriers, and the resulting canals prevent large-scale mosh pits or heaving crowds from getting out of control. The approach also allows for security to access trouble spots more easily.
Wertheimer said that barriers, which he describes as “like a reef that you put in the ocean to break up the waves,” can be effective, but not always. The Roskilde Festival used barriers to break up the crowd, he explains. “If you overcrowd a place, people can get crushed in between. It’s not necessarily going to work if you’re not taking other precautions.”
He added: “Travis Scott was known to have chaotic concerts, so it likely wouldn’t work with him. If it’s Pink Floyd, it’s going to work.”
Travis Scott performs at the Astroworld Festival in Houston on Friday.
(Amy Harris / Invision/ Associated Press)
Most often, the promoter is responsible for following crowd safety guidelines, Wertheimer said, noting that at particularly high-energy shows such as Scott’s, security guards usually maintain some sort of presence, not just on the perimeters but in the crowd itself. But Wertheimer said that some major security firms instruct their personnel to avoid dangerous situations. “Their manuals say ‘Don’t get involved. You could get injured and then we’ve got workman’s comp. Or contact your supervisor.’ So people are dying and you’re trying to reach your supervisor.”
One Astroworld attendee specifically noted the lack of security personnel. “I’ve been to Lollapalooza in Chicago, it was nothing like that. There should be a lot of security there, just to be safe,” Julian Ponce, 21, told The Times. A video from earlier in the day documented a rush of fans breaking through the VIP gates, only to be thwarted by officers on horseback.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner acknowledged the earlier breach during a Saturday news conference: “It was something we got under control,” he said.
“There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, stating that 528 police officers were assigned to the concert, “plus 755 security guards provided by Live Nation.”
Lina Hidalgo, chief executive for Harris County surrounding Houston, noted that the festival stepped up its security over the last Astroworld event by more than 150 personnel, after a barricade breach in 2019.
“It doesn’t matter how many police officers and security were there if they’re not in the proper location and they’re not trained in crowd management,” Wertheimer said of those numbers. “None of those people were in the crowd. Not enough of them were near the front barriers.” He added that most often, police officers aren’t assigned to crowd management anyway.
Concert promoter Live Nation issued a statement that read: “Heartbroken for those lost and impacted at Astroworld last night. We will continue working to provide as much information and assistance as possible to the local authorities as they investigate the situation.”
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said the concert was inspected in advance, including access to entrances and exits. “What we’re looking into is what led to the crowd surge,” Peña said. “It was the crowd control at the stage that was the issue.”
Wertheimer said he takes specific issue with something that Peña said during the news conference on Saturday morning, that “the crowd began to compress towards the front of the stage, and that caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries.”
That’s framed entirely wrong, Wertheimer said. “When the fire chief of Houston says people were panicking, it tells me right off the bat he’s never been in a crowd crush. People were not panicking. They were trying to save their lives and save the lives of people around them.”
“There was like no airflow in there. It was just like primal instinct: I had to get out,” Astroworld attendee Gerardo Abad Garcia, 25, told The Times.
Whoever is to blame, lawsuits will probably follow. In the wake of the deadly Who concert, victims’ families sued not only the band, but the venue, its directors, the city of Cincinnati and the concert promotion company.
“Sixteen-year-old Suzy, or 18-year-old Johnny, are not crowd managers, fire marshals or security guards,” Wertheimer concluded. “They have a right to assume somebody is looking after their safety, but as is the case at concerts and festivals, all too often there is no safety net for them — and they’re the last ones to find that out.”
Original Article: latimes.com
Why Mexico’s President Is Promoting a Recall Against Himself
MEXICO CITY —
Standing before hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters in downtown Mexico City’s central square, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saved his most striking comment for the end of his speech.
He urged the Mexicans packed into the Zócalo to participate in an April referendum to decide whether they want to boot him from office more than two years early.
“None of, ‘They chose me for six years and I can do whatever I want,’” López Obrador said at the rally Wednesday to mark his midterm. “If one who governs is not up to the task and obeying the people, revoke their mandate and out!”
The president, 68, likely believes he has nothing to worry about.
Recent polls show that about two-thirds of the public approve of his performance since taking office in 2018 on a platform that promised a radical transformation of Mexican society to combat corruption and inequality and to roll back free-market economic policies.
Families and marching bands making their way to the Zócalo passed vendors hawking gray-haired López Obrador dolls and posters with the hashtag #QueSigaAMLO, or “may AMLO continue,” referring to the president by his initials. Many said they view a referendum, authorized by a 2019 constitutional reform spearheaded by the president, as proof of his honest character when compared to decades of presidents accused of corruption.
“AMLO is the first president that dares to put himself to the test before the people,” said Debanhi Andrea Garcia, 22, who drove 14 hours from the state of Nuevo León with her boyfriend. “Because he’s like that, we support him.”
Supporters of López Obrador hold banners in support of the president at Mexico City’s Zócalo.
(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)
Mexicans have until Dec. 25 to sign a petition supporting the referendum, which can move forward only with the signatures of at least 3% of eligible voters, among other caveats.
So far, the initiative has received more than 703,000 signatures from Mexicans who have valid voting credentials, or 25% of the required total, according to the National Electoral Institute, an independent agency overseeing the process. (That tally includes signatures that will be discarded because they are duplicates or have other irregularities.)
Officially called the “revocation of mandate,” the measure follows other efforts by the president to increase citizen engagement in public policy. López Obrador has also backed referendums to decide whether former Mexican presidents should be prosecuted for alleged crimes, on the construction of a new airport near Mexico City and on the development of a tourism train line that would run through the Yucatan Peninsula.
“He does conceive his power as being a function of people reiterating their support actively,” said Francisco González, a professor of Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University. “He wants it officially confirmed to give him that comfort of being the popular leader who is doing the right thing for Mexico.”
Since taking office, López Obrador has also expanded social welfare programs while introducing sharp austerity measures. He has halted renewable energy projects, promoted a constitutional reform to increase the country’s control of the electricity market, and given more power to the military — putting it in charge of projects such as the tourism train.
President López Obrador gives an address to mark the midpoint of his term.
(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)
His critics say that he hasn’t done enough to reduce high levels of homicides, including many killings of women and attacks against journalists and public officials. Dozens of candidates across the country were assassinated ahead of last spring’s midterm elections for governorships and legislative and mayoral seats.
Critics also are concerned about López Obrador’s attacks against democratic agencies that could check his power, notably the National Electoral Institute. He has repeatedly disparaged the independent agency, which last May sanctioned him for making statements in at least 29 news conferences that it said could be considered government propaganda that could influence the midterm elections. In Mexico, such statements by public officials are generally barred during the election season.
But the president’s vision of transformational change continues to resonate among many voters who view him as a paternal figure. López Obrador is in constant dialogue with his electorate, holding press conferences every morning that last hours.
“The figure he has constructed of an honest man, an honorable man, an incorruptible man — that helps him in a society that is used to seeing terribly corrupt politicians,” said René Torres-Ruiz, a political scientist at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.
Even if enough signatures are gathered, hurdles to a referendum remain. The National Electoral Institute’s members have said that the agency doesn’t have the budget to carry out the vote and at least 40% of eligible voters must participate for the referendum to be binding. The referendum on former presidents last August fell far short of the 40% voting figure.
Ariadna Gomez, left, and another volunteer collect signatures for a referendum on whether Mexico’s president should continue.
(Leila Miller / Los Angeles Times)
Stephanie Brewer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America, said that winning a referendum would increase López Obrador’s perception that he could move forward freely with his agenda.
“What he wants is to come out of the vote, supposing there is one, politically strengthened with this renewed and amplified popular mandate,” she said.
Opposition parties have accused the president’s supporters of twisting the stated purpose of the referendum into a tool to promote López Obrador’s agenda. The 2019 reform called for a referendum to “revoke” a president’s mandate rather than “ratify” it and a complaint before the National Electoral Institute by the National Action Party referenced how volunteers have registered voters next to posters that advertise the referendum as a means of promoting the president rather than recalling him from office.
Luis Cházaro, a congressman from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told The Times that the referendum “has been transformed into a promotional tool for the party.” He does not plan to participate.
In Coyoacán, a cobblestoned neighborhood in Mexico City known for Frida Kahlo’s home, volunteers last Sunday gathered signatures at a plaza in front of posters of the president that said “may AMLO continue.”
Ariana Garcia, a 24-year-old volunteer, said she uses the term “ratification” for people she senses like the president and “revocation” for those she thinks oppose him.
“People tell you, ‘But I don’t want my president to leave,’ so we tell them, ‘OK, then in this case you can ratify your support for the president,’” she said.
A supporter of López Obrador listens to his speech at a rally to commemorate the president’s midterm.
(Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)
Roberto Garcia, a systems engineer in Mexico City, said that he would vote against the president, uncomfortable that the federal government recently issued a decree that requires federal agencies to automatically approve infrastructure projects that are deemed to be of interest to the public or national security. He also sees the referendum as “a type of manipulation,” suspicious of why the president has contradicted the National Electoral Institute, saying it has enough funding to hold a vote he himself has fought for.
María de los Angeles Resendiz, a grandmother of 10 from the state of Mexico, will support López Obrador without hesitation.
Resendiz, 62, watches the president’s 7 a.m. news conferences each day with her husband while preparing breakfast and washing dishes. If she needs to skip one, she’ll track it down later on YouTube. She also listens to summaries in case she’s missed something.
Before López Obrador took power, Resendiz tried to stay as far away from politics as she could. She became disillusioned when she was a little girl after the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which soldiers killed as many as 300 people at a student protest in Mexico City.
She called López Obrador a “simple” man who has won her confidence with his anti-corruption platform. She eagerly described how his government has set money aside for youth job training and expanded welfare payments to the elderly.
“He’s given us back our dignity,” she said. “I am proud to say that I am Mexican and that he is my president.”
Original Post: latimes.com
Op-Ed: the U.S. Shouldn’t Ignore Mexico’s Ongoing Human Rights Catastrophe
On Dec. 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reached the halfway point of his six-year term. Since his election in 2018, López Obrador has not only failed to improve the country’s disastrous human rights record, he has worked to undo many of the hard-fought gains in transparency and the rule of law that rights groups, activists and campaigners have achieved since the end of one-party rule in Mexico in 2000.
The United States has been noticeably silent regarding the Mexican president’s accelerating attacks on democracy. President Biden has instead chosen to focus on enlisting López Obrador to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.
López Obrador, a prominent anti-establishment figure in Mexican politics for decades, is the kind of populist leader that has become increasingly common in Latin America. He was democratically elected in a landslide on a promise to “transform” Mexico by taking back control of the country from the elites whose policies he blamed for economic inequality, social breakdown and growing violence.
López Obrador inherited a human rights catastrophe. When he came to office in 2018, 12 years of a military-led drug war had led to horrific abuses. Homicides hit staggering numbers. Thousands of people disappeared every year. But he has not addressed these problems. Soldiers continue to kill civilians. Homicides remain at historically high rates. And according to the government’s figures, more than 25,000 people have gone missing on his watch.
Even so, López Obrador has remained immensely popular with his base. He appears to believe that his continued popular support gives him the moral authority to concentrate as much power as possible in his own hands and to attempt to control every part of the state to bring about his promised transformation.
He labels anyone who criticizes him or stands in his way as a “neoliberal” or “conservative,” nebulous groups of supposed adversaries whom he describes as corrupt and morally bankrupt. Leveling this charge allows him to avoid responding to genuine concerns raised by journalists who question him, women’s rights campaigners upset at his lack of action on gender-based violence, Indigenous communities who oppose his megaprojects, environmentalists who disagree with his coal and oil-focused energy policy, and press freedom campaigners concerned about his government’s harassment of journalists, among others.
He has eliminated or proposed eliminating many government agencies not under his direct control, including the independent energy and telecommunications regulators, funds for protecting journalists and responding to climate change and natural disasters, the independent transparency agency and the independent electoral authority. He recently decreed that his government’s construction and infrastructure projects would be automatically granted permits without any review and that as matters of “national security,” would be exempted from transparency rules.
He has also gone after the judicial system, which has delayed or blocked a number of his projects and proposals as abusive or unconstitutional. His efforts to intimidate the judiciary have grown brazen. López Obrador has publicly singled out those whose rulings he dislikes and called for a judge who ruled against him to be investigated.
In April, his coalition in Congress passed a law — since overturned — to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice who has ruled in favor of the president. And in August, López Obrador held a referendum on whether the government should put five previous presidents on trial for alleged crimes such as “neoliberalism” and the “privatization of public goods.”
The U.S. policy of ignoring López Obrador’s attacks on the rule of law came into stark relief in June, when Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico and met with him. At the end of the trip, a journalist asked the vice president if the United States was concerned about López Obrador’s hostile attitude toward the media and civil society.
Harris initially responded that she had urged the Mexican president to respect the independence of the judicial system, the press and civil society. However, hours later, her spokesperson issued a correction to the Spanish wire service EFE, saying the vice president had been confused; she and the Mexican president had only discussed immigration and the economy, nothing else.
López Obrador will be in office for another three years. His coalition still controls both houses of Congress and he has made it clear that he is willing to amend the constitution if necessary to remove obstacles to achieving his goals. Unless the circumstances change, there are no signs he intends to alter his course.
José Miguel Vivanco is Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Tyler Mattiace is a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
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