Summer Jam 2015: What the State Police Could Learn From Travis $cott About Crowd Control (Video)
Summer Jam 2015 took place today in East Rutherford, NJ. As has been the case for several years, the event was divided into two parts. The first consisted of a festival that was free to fans during the day. The lineup consisted of Joey Bada$$, B.o.B., Fetty Wap, Dej Loaf, Teyana Taylor and Charles Hamilton. The headliner was Travis $cott who put on an awe-inspiring performance.
Donning a yellow jacket that seemed much too heavy for the 80 degree weather, $cott took the stage and seismically shifted the energy in the crowd. From the outset, he completely took command, ordering the audience to jump over the security barriers to get closer to the stage. “Security, let them over, don’t you touch them!,” barked $cott. “Let’s go! They can’t stop you, it’s too many of you!,” he exhorted.
For a moment, there was that feeling that anything could happen, including a riot. It was tense and electrifying at the same time. Travis launched into “Don’t Play,” whipping the fans into a frenzy. At one point, he dove into the crowd, all-trusting, and began surfing across the extended arms. When he got back to the stage, there was a large man behind him who $cott introduced as his security. “My security here is so the fans can rage how the fuck they want to. Their security is here to stop you from raging.” He quickly added that he wanted people to rage peacefully and explicitly stated no violence would be condoned.
He launched into “Upper Echelon,” and it was crystal clear in that moment that $cott had complete control of the crowd. He communicated with them, respected them and trusted them to wild out, but be responsible and do the right thing. It was a true Hip-Hop moment.
Sadly, what I witnessed just a few short hours later was the complete antithesis of $cott’s behavior. When I returned to the stadium at around 8:10 that evening, eager to see Kendrick Lamar, Fabolous, Big Sean and more, I thought nothing of the flashing lights. They’re commonplace at such events. When I got to the gate and saw it was closed, however, it was obvious something was awry. There, thousands of frustrated fans were desperate to get in, but voicing their disapprovals peacefully. The security ranged from attempting to be helpful to dismissive.
Initially, we were told there was a disturbance and the gates had been closed but would re-open in about 30 minutes. As fans waited and continued to inquire, 30 minutes turned into 45 and 45 turned into an hour. The more time that passed, the less communicative security became. In that time, the presence of the New Jersey state police also increased substantially. At this point, there was a disturbing visual. On one side of a 12 foot gate, you had thousands of frustrated fans, mostly of color, who had paid for tickets, and $30 for parking, who were being denied access to the show. On the other side of the fence, you had security and state troopers lined up in a way that looked uncomfortably militaristic.
By this point, security supervisors were ordering all of their staff to move far away from the gates and stop engaging with the audience. And, then, for the second time in a day, the energy completely shifted. Suddenly, there were droves of state troopers in riot gear with shields, on the inside. On the outside, an anti-riot vehicle appeared that looked similar to the one in the picture below.
The state troopers put their shields up and, as if on cue, bottles started to fly over the gates. To be clear, this was not the majority of the crowd. It was a few knuckleheads who took matters into their own hands. Soon thereafter, droves of people started running, possibly due to the deployment of tear gas. Given all of the unrest that has occurred in this country over the last year, it was a scary moment. It seemed like things could turn very ugly very quickly. To the crowd’s credit, however, things did not get out of hand. There were isolated incidences of people trying to climb the gates and some more bottle throwing, but, generally, the unrest was verbal and civil, especially given that thousands of fans lost a good deal of money.
One has to question if this would have happened at a Rock concert or during a football game where a few rowdy fans got out of hand. Would the entire venue have been “locked down” for the duration of the event? Or, was this the result of a predisposition to overreact at a Hip-Hop event, particularly one where the audience was primarily of color? Have the events of the past year caused police and security forces to immediately go to DEFCON 5 at the first indication of a disturbance? Whatever the case, there was a clear lack of communication, respect and trust for the audience that fanned the flames and could have made an unfortunate situation much worse. As Travis $cott showed earlier in the day, that can be the difference between a “riot” and peaceful raging.
In the end, thousands of disenchanted fans streamed away, as Kendrick Lamar’s serenade of “The Blacker the Berry” emanated from the stadium.