For more than four decades, the Gilroy Garlic Festival has been a community celebration of a pungent bulb that gives southern Santa Clara County its unique flavor. More than 4,000 volunteers come together each year to put on one of the state’s biggest agricultural-themed weekend parties. The “Garlic Capital of the World’s” signature event serves as a fundraiser for nonprofit and school groups. It is perhaps known as much for gridlocked rural roads leading in and out of festival grounds as it is for the event itself.
And if you substitute the word “pumpkin” for “garlic” the festival would look and feel familiar to any Coastsider. That is why we should all feel a special kinship with Gilroy residents on this fateful week.
As everyone knows, on Sunday, a lone gunman, equipped for war, opened fire on the last afternoon of the Gilroy Garlic Festival. He killed three — including two children — and wounded a dozen more. Early reports suggest he was motivated by racial hatred that is as American as the Ku Klux Klan and the Civil War. In the process of killing strangers, he added Gilroy to a litany of American towns like Orlando, Las Vegas and Sandy Hook that once brought to mind something other than gun violence.
The only question is what city will be next. We are sure that organizers who labor all year to host a fun and safe Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival will be reconsidering security in the weeks to come. Like the Garlic Festival, our annual ode to the pumpkin is outdoors and difficult to monitor. Vendors and events take place across several downtown blocks. The Half Moon Bay festival is likely even more vulnerable to such an attack because there are no tickets. Consequently, there is no central entry point where authorities can check bags and so forth. It would be even easier for a shooter to fade into the crowd and out from the perimeter of the event.
Elsewhere, in places like Massachusetts, where terrorists set off bombs that forever changed the iconic Boston Marathon, authorities instituted profound and costly security measures that fundamentally changed the feel of the event. And that may have been prudent. But there are thousands of large and small events across the United States every weekend. They can’t all be guarded as if they were Marine installations in a war zone.
As a community, we need to weigh the risk and consider all the various costs of turning the Pumpkin Festival over to the police force. It’s a terrible decision to face, and a distinctly 21st century one at that.
Our thoughts are with the people of Gilroy.