Travis Scott performing in February 2016. Ten people were killed and dozens were injured during the Astroworld Festival on Nov. 5. BRANDON DULL/CC BY 2.0

Christine Kelley is a transfer student majoring in journalism after receiving an associate’s degree in creative writing

Nov. 5’s Astroworld Festival tragedy in Houston, which killed 10 people and injured dozens more in a crowd rush, has yielded countless anecdotes of the mass social breakdown.

Several organizations involved with Astroworld, including the festival’s organizers, promoters, law enforcement, security forces, private contractors and celebrities, failed the attendees on a catastrophic scale. With 50,000 people in attendance, Astroworld exemplified how hurriedly planned money-making events, as well as ignoring precedent, endanger people’s lives.

The story is developing rapidly. Over 100 lawsuits have been filed against Astroworld founder and performer Travis Scott. Among the victims was a 9-year-old, who after undergoing a medically induced coma, died due to “internal organ damage and brain swelling” suffered in the crowd crush. Festival organizer Scoremore and promoter Live Nation are refunding concertgoers, which legal experts say could be used to undermine lawsuits.

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Travis Scott, a Houston native who founded the Astroworld Festival, has been roundly and rightfully criticized for his handling of the disaster. Despite fans in the crowd warning Scott and security that people were injured, Scott continued performing until promoter Live Nation ended the concert several minutes after ambulances arrived.

While Scott offered a personal audience for concert victims and to cover funeral expenses, he has also partnered with online counseling service BetterHelp to provide therapy to survivors, a move that has been criticized as simply profiting BetterHelp, a company which has been accused of mistreating patients and has sold patients’ data to third parties. Scott responded to the 10 deaths and hundreds of injuries by using those tragedies to bolster a predatory money-making counseling service which has overwhelmingly hurt its patients.

Scott has landed in legal trouble for his behavior at concerts in the past. In 2015, Scott pleaded guilty to reckless conduct charges after a Lollapalooza performance during which he spurred his audience into a stampede that trampled a 15-year-old girl. Two years later, Scott was sued by a concertgoer who was paralyzed after being pushed from a third-story balcony at a Scott concert.

In a video response to the Astroworld disaster, Scott said “I could just never imagine the severity of the situation.” Clearly, he did not. Scott, a millionaire popstar, was insulated from the catastrophe he helped to catalyze, while concert attendees, likely not millionaires, and many of whom spent hundreds of dollars to see the show, were trampled to death.

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However, Scott is merely the public face of a catastrophic systemic failure that killed 10 young people. The New York Times has suggested Scott’s personal ties to Houston’s city government and Houston Police Department (HPD) could insulate him from consequences for Astroworld. Approximately 530 HPD officers were on Astroworld’s security team. Now they’re co-leading the Astroworld investigation, for which HPD’s chief has offered the flimsy defense of “we investigate ourselves all the time.” The official narrative of Astroworld will be decided by the organizations who facilitated it and failed to protect the concert goers.

The HPD officers formed one part of Astroworld’s security team, which also included 76 off-duty police officers and 91 private security officers. HPD has denied responsibility for not calling off the event, yet has also claimed it attempted to get Astroworld’s organizers to do so. But a question remains: why is HPD investigating a mass casualty over 600 of its own officers failed to prevent?

The answer is that the truth would flatter nobody. Astroworld was horribly planned. Astroworld’s 56-page security plan doesn’t even mention how to handle a crowd surge. One thousand people were gathered at NRG Park’s gates, the festival’s venue, by 3 a.m., 10 hours before the venue’s scheduled opening. Attendees rushed in when NRG Park opened. Concert goers had drug overdoses and required CPR before the concert even began. ParaDocs Worldwide, a Brooklyn-based medical contractor present at the event, failed to provide a direct line to the Houston Fire Department, who couldn’t contact them during the disaster. 

There is historical precedent for these mass deaths caused by authorities’ greed, particularly at concerts. A 1979 concert by The Who in Cincinnati, precipitated by poor planning and not helped by police, caused a crowd surge which killed 11 people (the concert continued after the deaths, while The Who only learned of the tragedy afterwards). A 2010 EDM festival in Duisburg, Germany, affected by government and organizer negligence, as well as that of private contractors, led to 21 deaths. A Hajj crush at Mecca in 2015, of which the death toll was understated by the Saudi government, killed over 2,000 people, probably due to the closure of two roads for a prince and his convoy. In all cases, people in power, economic and governmental, permitted large groups of people to die.

The 10 deaths at Astroworld Festival were the result of catastrophically failed planning by festival organizers, planners, police and private contractors. That number may increase. Yet the organizations who failed to protect concert goers, in their relentless pursuit of sustained power, will likely never face consequences for what happened in Astroworld. The festival was a systemic failure. Travis Scott, the people in charge of Astroworld, law enforcement and contractors, in their eagerness to stage events, utterly failed to sufficiently plan for the crowd. Because of this, 10 young people, mostly high school and college students, went to see a pop star they loved and never came home. Scott and his team must be held accountable for their deadly oversight.

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