A city responds to a shooting

I usually only write about products, design and startups here. But today is different. Last week, on 18 March 2019, a man opened fire on some innocent people in a tram in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Three people lost their lives, five others were injured.

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Shrine for the victims of the shooting. Source: here 

The shooting occurred at 10.45 am. I was in the same tram at 7 am. In fact, I travel in it every single day; the tram stop is just behind my apartment in Utrecht.

But I am not writing to share the details of the incident. That has been covered by news outlets.

I write to share my wonder at the response of the police and the society. The police responded with speed. They circulated the picture of the shooter (I assume it was made available through the tram cameras) and found him within 8 hours of the incident. They later took down the picture, to respect the person’s privacy, because he is a suspect, and has not been found guilty via a trial yet. Also, in the evening, the city mayor appeared in public to assuage fears and doubts.

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The police kept people updated through their official Twitter account. The media covered the event in detail, but at no point did they share the pictures of any victims. Even the names of the victims were not made public. Instead, they opened helplines where you could call for advice, help and information.

They created a shrine near the incident, where you can put flowers for the memory of the victims. They also shared pictures of the police with the flowers near the shrine. This sombre image stays with me. A human and mature response to a tragedy. It fosters a feeling of trust in the system, a sense of safety in the citizens. It’s no surprise that Dutch citizens are thanking and praising the police for their work on Twitter.

(Maybe this is, or should be, normal. But where I come from, it’s not.)

A few days later, there was a silent march for the victims in the city. I saw it from a distance, and stood in awe at the sheer number of people – walking without a sound. (I can picture ‘loud’ marches, but a silent one… is somewhat different).

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‘Utrecht never bends’: 16,000 people march silently. Source: here

So many coming together, silently, as a city, in a gesture of solidarity. The municipality also put up a website, where you can send messages to the victims and to their families. I have been close to a shooting before, but I have never seen such a humane, a strong and considerate response.

I feel weirdly detached, like a bystander, an observer, an outsider. Even though it was so near. But I feel a lot of respect for the response shown by the official forces. And I hope that public officials, societies, and cities, all over the world can take a cue from Utrecht.

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