You may have heard about a crazy teenage riot (shoutout to Sonic Youth) that shut down Kentucky’s Mall St. Matthews on Saturday night. NBC News reported that “chain-reaction brawls involving up to 2,000 people erupted” in the mall. Officer Dennis McDonald’s account sounded like a more banal (and more violent) version of Yeats’s “The Second Coming.” As police responded to “disturbances, others were breaking out... Disturbances started to feed on themselves.”
Police, McDonald went on, “were just overwhelmed with a number of calls for service and reports of disorder. It was a series of brawls [involving 1-2,000 people from age 13 to their early 20s]” that affected the entire mall.
Something caused the mall to be shutdown on Saturday night and it may have been a lot of teenagers brawling, but it almost certainly wasn’t 2,000 teenagers brawling, or even 1,000 teenagers brawling, or probably even 100—unsourced videos on YouTube show a lot of people fighting outside a mall, but no more than a couple dozen. Inside Louisville’s Joe Dunman is also skeptical. Dunman’s piece turns the riot into a cautionary tale about single source reports where the single source is a police officer:
The estimated size of the unruly crowd made little sense. Two thousand is twice as many as one thousand, and either way, thousands of people take up a tremendous amount of space. Certainly the mall can hold a lot of people, but 1,000 (or more) young people all engaged in violence and disruption would certainly have been captured on video or would have caused some sort of damage. Yet the mall opened on time the next day without any need for repair.
More likely, Dunman reports, the estimates in the thousands probably stemmed from the call to close the mall, which “led to a veritable stampede for the exits, which resulted in confusion, yelling and panic.”