Anthrocon 2022 - Cops, Convention Centers, and actions you can take to avoid undue stress
When Anthrocon returned to the city of Pittsburgh in 2022 after the two year pandemic hiatus, the celebrations in the streets were palpable. It had been a long lockdown, and the city was desperate for a return to some sense of normalcy. The irony being that these people in animal costumes and the chaotic atmosphere of the convention had provided this sense of normalcy since their first year in 2006.
When the time had come to close the doors for the renewed celebration though, a situation had started to cause anxiety amongst the furry population who only hours before were lost in the joys of seeing one another in this home away from home once again. After closing ceremonies had come to an end, unaware furries found themselves ushered from the convention spaces immediately by law enforcement in a manner that caused those on the ground to feel as if instead of welcomed guests, they were instead a group to be distrusted and pushed out as soon as the show was over.
This article will go over these reactions, the underlying causes of anxieties, and how future attendees can take steps to avoid the situation themselves should they seek to. Due to length, a keep it short summary has been added below the fold in order to break the summarize the points in the article without as many details.
2019 - Similar action with a different response
- In 2019, more gatherings seemed to increase security presence when clearing facilities including Anthrocon and sporting events.
- In 2020, the George Floyd murder led to a more vocal and wary society of the abuses of law enforcement
- In 2022, the first Anthrocon since COVID utilized similar means as 2019 to clear the convention center, but because of summer of 2020, in combination with stories of worrying encounters, it caused an exasperated situation.
- Anthrocon promised that they would take action to improve the situation for the 2023 year
- Attendees looking to avoid any possible repeat situation could clear out of the convention center before closing ceremonies finishes (6PM), or before ceremonies starts (5PM) just to be safe.
- Conventions could in the future look into denoting common con areas being closed and at what times in their schedules and literature (print and online/social media) to help inform attendees.
This portion of the article will be a little bit personal and anecdotal, because as an attendee at Anthrocon 2019, my experience was on the ground rather than through social media reaction and data collecting. I had attended the closing ceremonies in the David Lawrence Convention Center (DLCC) that year, as I had prior years. But something stood out to me this year as when I left the ballroom with the others. I found the path I would usually use to leave the DLCC (over the sky bridge and to the Westin) was cut off. Instead everyone leaving the building was ushered down the escalators and to the streets below. Another furry also had this experience, so here’s a secondary reference.
In the end, I thought the building lockdown situation was a bit odd, I had not recalled it being done in prior years, even though I was sure I had attended closing ceremonies before. In the end, I had passed it off as perhaps a security threat was made which required the stringent closure of the facility.
However, I would change my perspective on the situation six months later. Prior to the pandemic shutdown, I was also invited to a hockey game by my brother in January of 2020 in Buffalo, NY. When we were exiting after the game’s conclusion, we were ushered from the facility in a way that reminded me of my egress from Anthrocon earlier. There wasn’t a place your head could turn without seeing a person in enforcement garb as the fans were moved from the hockey rink back out to the surrounding city streets.
Given these experiences in 2019 and early 2020, it caused me to come to a hypothetical conclusion that utilizing law enforcement or security services to clear out gathering spaces for fandom events that contain crowds of folks had become, or were starting to become, a common practice prior to the pandemic. I had not recalled seeing such a means of clearing out functions like this prior to these events, and thus why they had stuck with me. While initially I thought that the law enforcement were brought in due to threats, the hockey game made me believe this might be a new normal in preventative action.
If so, this was clearly done with the best of intentions, but little could anyone know the amount of a shift 2020 would have when it comes to how people view large actions by law enforcement such as this.
The Summer of 2020 - And a shift in perspective
Public relations is a difficult thing. Especially when organizations give power to those that can abuse it, and then bear the responsibility left in the wake of corrupt and despicable actions taken by those given said power. While the summer of 2020 was not the first time in American history that someone in law enforcement performed a heinous and intolerable act violence of upon the citizenry under the guise of performing their duties, it would be one that would be recorded and presented in such a clear and disturbingly concise manner at a time where most in the lockdown found themselves with time to truly consume the event and react to it.
This mixed with a federal government that seemed to not wish to deescalate the situation of the created schism between law enforcement and citizenry. Instead the leadership of our federal government, via social media, used buzz words to instead apparently welcome the violence and fight rather than apologize for it. Thus, adding fuel to help create an intense situation of rioting and heavy handed enforcement to meet it that spread to most major population centers in the United States.
Videos of military-like brigades marching through suburban streets, while onlookers on their porches had found themselves in the crossfire became commonplace. The state’s aggressive response to squelch descent on top of the cruelty of the catalyzing event had caused an animosity toward law enforcement that had perhaps not existed since the 1970s.
In that era you can see evidence of this chilled relationship between citizen and governmental enforcers through media of the time. This was true across the political spectrum such as the animated Robin Hood, the more liberally aligned Fritz the Cat, or the more conservatively aligned Dukes of Hazzard. This wave of media was a result of the heavy handed tactics utilized by the government in the 60s which included events such as the Kent State massacre, the assassination of civil rights leaders, and other such incidents.
Back in the 2020s, shows that were once used for public relations for law enforcement since the 70s, such as the television show Cops, were removed from television spaces in 2020 and now relegated to online only consumption, as Fox Nation would pick up the property for their streaming services in 2021.
Due to this environmental shift, an unforeseen consequence for enforcement in Pittsburgh in 2022 was on its way.
Similar tactics, in a new world
Similar to how Anthrocon 2019 was cleared, there was a heavy law enforcement presence clearing out the convention center as soon as the closing ceremonies wrapped up. This time however, social media lit up with horror stories of the cop’s treatment of guests.
A well shared video at the time was that from Patrick Snowyote, showing guests being ushered from the terrace along with the statement, “This is NOT how you clear out a furry con. Pride/Queer events have been continuously disrupted in this manner and it needs to end.”
Many shared stories of issues, which included:
- Access to elevators being removed causing those with disabilities to be caught off guard and forced to utilize the stairs
- Stories that law enforcement had their hands on their guns were common.
- Terminology such as “the furs have been evacuated” caused confusion and concern that there was a more dire even going on
- General confusion that the convention center was even closed to begin with.
- Those in the space unaware of the imminent closure had to hurry to pack up their items while under aggressive pressure to vacate.
Anthocon released a statement on social media following the poorly received post-closing event. In the letter they stated that enforcement present was a bit rusty in demeanor due to COVID-19 shutdowns and getting back into the swing of things, along with resources shifted to other enforcement agencies due to staffing limitations. There were also security requirements required to meet contract and insurance obligations. They indicated that they would also look into ensuring that security would be more vetted and that the group that caused the issues in 2022 would not return for 2023.
It was noted by another furry, Arilin Thorferra, that this would have been the first time that the Dorsai Irregulars had not been brought in to help with security matters at the convention. So this may also have been another adjustment that strained staff for the year logistically.
While it may be true that the situation could improve this for 2023, there are actions that attendees can take in case they do not wish to leave things to chance, or don’t trust the staff to follow through.
A means to avoid a repeat
For those who are anxious around large groups of law enforcement, the results of what happened in 2022 may leave you with the desire to sit the convention out, even if you would have joined otherwise. But that should not be necessary. While we have no control how much Anthrocon, the city, or the DLLC can do to help mitigate circumstances and avoid what occurred last year, we can use the information of what we do know so that you as an attendee can avoid these stressors and still enjoy the convention.
And fortunately it is actually quite simple.
Just plan to leave the David Lawrence Convention Center well before closing ceremonies are concluded this year at 6PM local time on Sunday. In fact, if you really want to ensure that you do not encounter law enforcement even as they possibly prepare to cattle the guests out of the building, you should make a note when the ceremonies begin (5PM) and leave the DLCC at that time.
If you do wish to see the full closing ceremonies, ask a friend who may not be as fearful of a heavy security presence to record it for you. Or failing this, perhaps wait for the convention to post a video recorded copy that can be viewed later, as these are usually captured by the convention and posted on social media after the fact. Usually at least one person does.
In this way, you can support the fandom, but also avoid unwanted stress. If you know someone who feels this way, please feel free to share this idea with them. One should not need to feel isolated or find themselves unable to support their friends due to fear of circumstances such as this.
Also in the future, if any convention does know that the convention center or other common areas will be closed to the furries following the closing ceremonies or after certain times they could think of an effective and less avoidable way to inform the attendees of the area shut downs so there is less confusion when law enforcement starts ushering people away. This isn't only an Anthrocon thing. Adding an item to the published and online schedule that highlights that particular buildings and areas will be closed off to convention goers and at what times will prevent a word of mouth situation in social media after those unaware are surprised. The social media team should attempt to announce any area closures an hour in advance.
In short, the guests you are responsible for should have the same knowledge of area closures that those working security have. Otherwise, security may assume that the guests know what they know. This would result in security interpreting any confusion or stress as unwarranted hostility. Communication is the key to avoiding unnecessary tensions.
With that, please have a safe and wonderful Anthrocon this year.