There is a line in the otherwise bizarre film Tropic Thunder where Robert Downey Jr.’s character gives some rather politically incorrect advice: “Never go full retard.” This last month’s Phoenix Comicon decided to not only ignore that advice but even further–they “went full potato” as one comic-con attendee put it (we then tried to figure out if there was a vegetable dumber than the potato but couldn’t come up with anything). It was made even worse by the fact that this month L.A. decided to also exhibit the spectacular intelligence of a tuber. But in doing so they revealed so basic truths of government interference and actually provided us with something to actually cover as a news story. A news story that has grown to include both issues with Anime Expo and the Los Angeles Police Department as well as issues with Denver Comic Con’s vague new rules for both weapons and “PG” costume designs, all thanks to one insane person at one comic convention.
Let’s put this in context. Phoenix Comicon (PhxCC), arguably the second largest such geek convention after San Diego ComicCon, is held every year on Memorial Day weekend starting Thursday afternoon and goes through Sunday. It’s your standard fare of celebrities ranging from former or aspiring A-list to D-list who appeared on that one show most have forgotten (current A list tend to only go to San Diego), Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers, comic artists, lots of businesses selling geeky products, panels on a wide range of geekdom, and geeks. So many geeks. God bless them. A huge portion of them in a costume of their favorite characters. Seeing the detail and effort people put into their cosplay is half the reason to go to these events.
So what made this different? Well the first day of the event, Thursday, some lunatic came in with real guns and knives and had to be tackled to the ground by police. Apparently, he came to kill the actor who played the Green Power Ranger in the old show. I assume we’re all on the same page that this guy is not only batshit crazy, and we all know his lawyer is already preparing a mental incompetence plea or should be disbarred for incompetence himself. We’re all clear on that. I think we’re also all clear that this kind of crazy is the extreme exception and not anywhere the rule. Especially in Phoenix, Arizona where you can conceal carry guns WITHOUT A PERMIT. If you go to the supermarket you will see at least one person at all times with a gun in a holster, and if you’re an Arizona resident you’ve just stopped caring because it’s so common. This is Arizona, almost everyone has a gun, and everyone behaves themselves in public.
So Thursday afternoon the Police and those running PhxCC decided together (we’ll get back later to exactly who is to blame on this) that something needed to be done. They had some options. They could have moved more of the rent-a-cop security from inside the hallways where they just stand around and be useless for four days to the outside of the building to do a more careful inspection of everyone entering the building. They could have made sure there were metal detectors at every entrance. They could have banned realistic looking gun props to ensure the police who were working the event didn’t have to try and figure what was a gun and what might be real. And keep in mind that guns were already banned, edged weapons had to be tied shut, and as far as I know there has never before been a violent episode at this event (or really any such event…I’m sure there have been, but they’re probably rare and well below say the amount of violence at a sporting event).
And of course, the organizers adopted all of these reasonable courses of action. Just kidding, they went full potato.
All the security was still inside checking badges…which made sense in previous years because it was easy to get in and out…but now everyone had to come through one of three entrances. That’s right, over 100,000 through three doors. Everyone would be wanded down. On Saturday there were two security people per door doing the wanding. Three doors, two people per door–that each person wanding has to get through 16,000 people. This should have seemed stupid Friday night, but Phoenix police and the organizers of PhxCC are special kinds of really stupid potatoes. Then, and this the coup-de-grace of idiocy, they banned ALL PROP WEAPONS (although if you looked Thursday night you would have been told ALL PROPS, not just prop weapons, were banned…clear communication being something beyond those doing the organization). That’s right, that foam sword can’t come despite the fact that it could be used to hurt anyone, nor was that Harry Potter wand allowed, in accordance with their first press release and Thursday night’s Facebook posting on the Phoenix Comicon page, for the first half of Friday, because God help us if you pointed it at someone and cast Avada Kedavra. For all you Whovians out there, your Sonic-screwdrivers were also off limits on Friday morning. Yeah, children’s toys were banned as a safety precaution. We had no words for the level of rank stupidity that had to be involved here when we first heard this.
So what were the results of this? Well, first off we can promise you that this DID NOT PROTECT ONE SINGLE PERSON. This didn’t stop any acts of violence, this didn’t prevent any tragedies, this didn’t do one damn bit of good. We were told by several people working with the Blue Ribbon Army (the group that is tied to PhxCC) that their take on the issue was “better safe than sorry.” Which is really just bullshit. We have no nicer way to describe this justification. When you already have one stupid person out there you’ve already gone over the law of averages on violent acts. The odds of another violent act happening were zero. Absolute zero. The most ridiculous part of all of this is that if someone had wanted to hurt someone the policies put in place during the Phoenix Comicon weekend gave them the perfect target. Remember those stupid door policies? Friday the lines wrapped around the building complex three times. Thousands of people in line, hot, dehydrated, in uncomfortable clothes and all perfect defenseless little targets. If someone had wanted to go crazy the Phoenix police and the organizers of Phoenix Comicon created the perfect shooting gallery. If some loon had wanted to, this situation would have allowed them to kill dozens before they were stopped. And that didn’t happen. So all these measures were not just for nothing, had there been a real threat these policies would have made things exponentially worse. There is without question no justification for what happened on security grounds. None. And if anyone in the Phoenix PD wants to dispute that, they should be fired immediately as they are a massive threat to public safety.
As a side note, we would like to address the fact that the security measures, as annoying as they were, were completely ineffective. Not only did we witness purses and bags that were both big enough and heavy enough to contain weapons being glossed over and not looked inside at all at bag check, but we know of at least one attendee that confided in us that he habitually carries a fairly large knife in his pants pocket and that, while he had no intention of harming anyone, he forgot to remove it during the convention on Friday. He went through bag check and wanding at the door and that weapon was completely missed in the check. Congratulations Comicon, your extra security did nothing to keep real weapons out of the building.
But you know what those security checks did accomplish? Other than creating a potential shooting gallery in downtown Phoenix that is. Do you know what does happen when you force people to stand outside for hours in downtown Phoenix at the end of May? As what must have come to a great shock to the organizers and Phoenix PD, but it’s actually pretty hot in Phoenix. I know it was a complete surprise to, well, no one except the organizers and police apparently. Ambulances were called out to deal with heatstroke. Meaning that the policies meant to protect people, protected zero people and hurt severals others. I hope the people who had to have ambulances called out sue for their medical expenses. Congratulations Phoenix PD, you hurt more people than you helped.
Fun facts, did you know the cluster, in a clusterfuck, was originally meant to refer to the cluster insignia of Majors and Lt. Col.’s, as in, this is so stupid only officers (i.e. the people in charge) could come up with something this clueless. So this was a clusterfuck in the original sense.
Oh and since we’ve established this helped no one and actually hurt people, let’s talk about what it did to the actual convention. Attendance at panels was down. Attendance overall seemed to be down. Informal polls among the dealers on Sunday revealed that they all thought they pulled in less revenue than they had last year (although they were all careful to say they’d have to actually check the numbers and most asked to not be named in this article), and as for costumes, the pickings were much slimmer than in previous years. So overall it was a worse convention when it is compared to our memories of past years.
So now that we’ve pretty much established that while the fans, the dealers, the celebrities, the authors, and the artists still made this an overall good experience, let’s get to who exactly is to blame for all the terrible parts of this weekend. And we come up with two culprits the police and the organizers of Comicon. Both share some blame, and while I would be happy with a “God will know his own” type response to this level of stupidity, we should still try and figure out who exactly is to blame (as everyone is trying to the point the finger elsewhere in amongst their conflicting piles bullshit).
When the first rumors came down about the security plans that Comicon was preparing to put in place we were disbelieving, but as our team did have a group costume that involved swords planned for Saturday, we decided we should probably double check the details. We walked up to the nearest peace bonding station and asked what, if any, security changes were in place for tomorrow. The answer from the Phoenix Comicon staffer? “We’ve heard that question a lot, but we honestly just don’t know” only for him to be cut off by the member of the Phoenix Police Department who was also at the table who immediately and brusquely (and our editor could write another entire article on unprofessional way that Phoenix PD has behaved toward herself and other Phoenix Comicon attendees in the past, but that’s not the topic for today) informed us that there was to be “no props tomorrow.”
This, of course, left us with the conclusion that the Phoenix Police Department was the one pushing this issue and that since there had been no official statement from Square Egg Entertainment (the company that organizes and owns Phoenix Comicon) that they might very well be fighting this demand from the Police.
Later that day when we were returning to track down another police officer to get an official statement on the ban and what their justification was for forcing a private organization to change their security precautions, we got an official press release from Comicon that confirmed the ban.
In the days after Comicon there was confusion about who had officially made the call to push for the ban, but based on what we experienced we have to conclude that the police share a lot of the blame for the massive awful planning of this, but they are not entirely to blame for how poorly this was handled.
We wish this was an isolated incident, but it’s not. Between this, the inability of police anywhere to communicate the importance of broken windows policing, their refusal for the very needed community outreach and body cameras, the outright theft of private property through the unconstitutional “civil forfeiture,” and the absolutely unforgivable general support of a tyrant like Trump by most police organizations, the police, not just the Phoenix police, consistently show themselves to be as bad as every other part of government. We would all like to like the police but when you show the same level of concern for the public as the DMV, along with the same level of intelligence of the Treasury Department and the security of the TSA, it’s kind of hard to continue getting behind them.