Before coming to work at the Festival Center I lived in the New York City area. One summer my sister came to visit me for a girl’s weekend. One of the activities we had planned was to see a Broadway show. Following the show, I asked her if she wanted to see Times Square at night, something I normally would have avoided with every part of my being. We walked the block to Times Square, took a selfie and began to talk about where we wanted to eat when people around us began to run. I wasn’t sure what was going on exactly until a man in a white t-shirt and khaki shorts began to scream “Run. Just run!” My sister and I grabbed each other’s hands and ran. We jumped over concrete barricades, stepped in puddles and looked for the nearest place to hide.
With a large crowd, we pushed our way into the Hershey store. For a brief moment my hand broke from my sister’s and I was worried that I would never see her again. Moving our way to the back of the store I was able to find my sister’s hand again and we, and countless others, made our way into the staff only area which connected to the Times Square Hotel. Terrified, we hid behind the laundry bins until someone told us it was ok to come out.
I thought someone had driven into the crowd. Others heard there were gunshots. The truth was that a motorcycle backfired near Times Square and people thought it was gunshots and began running for their lives.
That night, critics online began to shame the crowd calling us stupid and paranoid for the reaction. How could a motorcycle backfire cause such a response?
A few days before, a mass shooting occurred at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California when a gunman opened fire, killing three people and wounding 17. Three days before, a gunman opened fire near the Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 and injuring an additional 23 people. Two days before, a gunman in Dayton, Ohio opened fire outside a bar after he was denied entry, killing ten, and injuring 27. In fact, between July 28, 2019 and August 6, 2019 there were 24 mass shootings across the United States.
Was the reaction from the crowd that unreasonable?
Last year there were 647 mass shootings in the United States. As of May 5th, 2023, there have been 192 mass shootings this year.
This is ridiculous.
A few months after my experience in Time Square, I was diagnosed with PTSD. To this day, loud noises or someone running sends me into a full-blown panic as I remember the lights of Times Square flickering on the pavement as I ran for my life. Summer is particularly difficult for me because of the way that mass shootings increase as the nights get longer and the weather becomes warmer. When I am in public, I be sure to wear shoes that I can easily run in and I always check my surroundings for an exit or a place to hide. Just in case.
Professionals have told me that, while there was no gun, I am a victim of gun violence. There are so many of us. There are too many of us.
I am for a change in this country when it comes to the way we regulate firearms because I believe that no life should be lost in an act of gun violence. I am for firearm regulation because I have experienced what is like to run in fear for your life. I am for firearm regulation because I believe that no one should listen to the sound of a motorcycle backfire, or a firecracker and wonder if it is time to start running.
It’s time for a change. This is everyone’s problem.