I’ve had a few “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moments in the past week, things which forced me to come to terms with some harsh realities of the city.
The first, and definitely the most dramatic, was when Caroline, Niki, Hau, and I went downtown to watch the fireworks on Monday. All was going well, aside from some particularly rude people we encountered while walking there, as we watched on Woodward, just north of Jefferson. A few minutes it, we heard the crowd behind us screaming, and I looked back to see countless terrified people charging north, away from the fireworks, for no apparent reason. When I and everyone else on the street saw the commotion, we did what was completely rational at the time, which was to run from whatever those people were running from as well, or rather, run from the hundreds of people behind you who will think nothing of trampling you. There was no sense in waiting around to investigate what those people were so terrified of.
The chaos felt like something out of a disaster movie. Police ran against the crowd, some of them armed with assault rifles. All the while, the fireworks display continued on behind us.
I, unlike most of the crowd, was ignorant to the fact that shootings occur at this event most years, and that what was happening wasn’t really out of the ordinary. I knew that Detroit has a high violent crime rate, but that statistic is entirely abstract to me, and I found the lackadaisical attitude in the aftermath of this incident rather bizarre. That kind of chaos and fear just didn’t faze many people. While they moseyed on back to their cars, I must have been an amusing sight: a wide-eyed out-of-towner, still in full-on fight-or-flight mode, clueless as to what the heck just happened.
While I naively suspected terrorism or some deadly firework malfunction, others simply dismissed the commotion’s cause as “a shooting or something”. No big deal, let’s go watch some TV and go to bed. The stampede was mentioned briefly in the Detroit Free Press story about the fireworks, but most of the article praised the show as a great success. The only people who were hurt were those who were trampled by the crowd.
I’m not quite sure what to make of that. Maybe I’m just naïve. Maybe my hometown was too sheltered from the real world to prepare me for something like that. Maybe stuff like this happens in other cities all the time. Or maybe that is just a first-hand experience with the real Detroit.
And maybe by the end of the program I’ll know the answer to that question. For now, I’m filing this one away under “culture shock”.