Afram melee

August 12, 1994|By Kiah Stokes

UNTIL last Sunday, my worst experience at Afram was getting lost in the huge crowd when I was about 7 years old. After shedding a bucket of tears, I was reunited with my family at the lost and found van. It was a happy ending.

Conversely, my visit to Afram at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last Sunday -- at the age of 23 -- ended with me receiving treatment in the first-aid van for cuts and bruises after being trampled by terrified concert goers who allegedly heard gunshots.

Sunday night's incident happened at the closing concert of the open-air, three-day event, which is held annually to celebrate African and African-American culture.

About 9:30 p.m., while rhythm-and-blues singer Gerald LeVert was singing on the temporary stage set up on Camden Yard's parking lot, I and a group of friends -- unable to see the stage which was several hundred yards away -- were standing in the back of the crowd taking.

Then someone yelled: "Their shooting!" That was the last thing that I recall before the crowd turned and ran toward us. It sounded as if a herd of cattle was headed our way.

A former college athlete, who stays in shape, I started to run to avoid the wave of bodies, but I was thwarted by vendors' booths. The force of the crowd pushed me to the asphalt -- elbows first, stomach second and my legs smashed down last. I was kicked and stepped on.

I have never been so terrified in my life. I just knew a gunman was racing directly behind me ready to fire. I thought I was going to be killed.

As I was getting up from the ground, I saw that others around me were terrified, too. Hundreds of us began looking for cover. A vendor, selling pizza, stood fearfully as dozens ran toward him. He yelled with his hands up : "No, please don't!" I leaped into his booth; many joined me or went for other booths.

Gerald LeVert had stopped singing and began yelling into the microphone: "Stop, stop it!" I still don't know if he meant: stop running, there is no shooting or stop shooting.

The scene was reminiscent of a riot: Children were crying hysterically, baby strollers were overturned. When things began to calm down, I located my friend, Sharron. She looked disoriented partly because she could not see well, her $200 prescription glasses had been knocked off her face. We could not find the glasses amid all of the debris on the parking lot: shoes, jewelry and clothing all dropped during the incident.

Sharron was fortunate not to have been seriously injured. She was pulled to the side by a group of guys.

I, on the other hand, had three deep gashes on my left elbow

and two on my right one with noticeable swelling.

Sharron helped me to the first-aid van, where paramedics raced back and forth notifying the helpers where other victims were.

"There's a pregnant woman over there in that tent complaining of pains," one said, pointing in one direction. "There's another woman over there with a broken leg," he said, pointing in the opposite direction. "And further down there's about 12 people stretched out who are in pain."

The paramedic who cleaned and bandaged my elbows said, "They need to send all of them home and just shut it down. They just don't know how to act."

After the incident, I was left with questions: Where were the police? (I only saw some at the gate when I was leaving.) What can the city and Afram organizers do to make me feel more comfortable and safe at future Aframs?

One thing I do know: I won't go to another Afram.

OC Kiah Stokes is a news assistant in The Sun's sports department.

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