October 21, 2004

UMD Police, Sox Fan Students Clash

Minutes after last night’s Red Sox win, riot police dispersed an unruly mob of UMass Dartmouth students that flocked into a campus courtyard, broke windows, overturned a light post and lobbed firecrackers and smoke bombs into police ranks. There were reports of as many as 20 UMD students arrested for disorderly conduct. (New Bedford Standard Times)

This is not quite the way I heard it.


As I understand, somewhere between 17-20 students were arrested including the brother of a friend and coworker. In his specific case, he was cited for “failure to disperse” and faces a number of repercussions. I am just now learning that all the students arrested are barred from the campus dormitories. They have been kicked off campus, as far as housing is concerned.

This was not just the campus police. There were a number of “homeland security” and riot control RV-type vehicles on campus from campus police, local municipalities and the Bristol County law enforcement organizations. Something like a small army, by the sound of it.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

My friend’s brother’s story sounds like one that could happen to just about anyone. He’s a student at UMass Dartmouth, and the sort of student that is well-liked by the professors here. At least one has said he’ll vouch for the young man. And, while alcohol can cause even mild-mannered folk to get into trouble, he’d only had one beer.

The situation began with students pouring out of the campus pub, mingling with those who had already begun to celebrate outside. But what turned a celebrator crowd into a mob?

People I know who were on the scene tell me that there was no order to disperse. There were no announcements given to the crowd and it was fairly calm. According to a friend, the police began by trying to take pictures of the students’ faces. After that, it’s a little unclear what happened. But my impression is that there may have been some troublemakers in the crowd, and the police adopted a “shock and awe” approach to subduing the crowd, which was not a mob, nor a riot at first.

All Hell Breaks Loose

That changed when the stun grenades began to explode. There are stories of the police throwing a number of these grenades, which cause a flash of light and a loud report. Of course, this gets the attack dogs quite excited. It’s also reported that students were pelted with pepper balls - the nasty big brother of the air-propelled paint ball. These are the same guns the police were playing with out behind our office.

I am hearing that there was no effort to peacefully disperse the crowd, leading to a situation where people who were not causing trouble were caught in the middle. In fact, it sounds clear that the tactics used allowed actual trouble makers time to run, while those students who didn’t feel they were doing anything wrong (and therefore didn’t feel the need to run like hell) were left as easy targets. And the police went after the easy targets with relish, unleashing with their snazzy new equipment. This situation is not far-fetched. I’m told that a New Bedford police officer told the families of the arrested students that he was confident he knew what had happened. The troublemakers had run and the police had grabbed the flat-footed bystanders.


Back to my friend’s brother. He got in between an officer and a girl they were about to push. The girl was a soccer player who had a torn ACL which was soon to be operated on. The student tried to prevent the girl from being knocked over, explaining about her injury. At that point, he was grabbed and dragged to one of the paddy wagons. No one here believes he did anything to threaten the officer, or to participate in any riot. I’ve seen this fellow in a party situation, and he is not the rowdy type. Even at a raucous party. He’s not charged with doing anything specific, or attacking an officer. “Failure to disperse.” As far as I know, no one was given instructions to disperse. If a stun grenade is a command to disperse, it’s pretty nonspecific.

I’m told that some students who turned and attempted to vacate the area (i.e. disperse) ran into police. Sounds like a “fog of war” situation, with one side in riot gear, using dogs and nightsticks at the least.

Sadly, my friend’s brother is now in a tough situation. He was in the middle of a campus police debacle and will pay for it. I understand it is the police’s responsibility to prevent riots from getting out of hand, but it is tough to see how their gung-ho attitude is helping things. They seem to eager to use their new gadgets n students, and I don’t see any effort to prevent trouble, just the willingness to dive in with guns a-blazing once trouble has started. Perhaps students could have been informed upon leaving the pub that congregating outside was not going to be tolerated.

What Now?

I’ll be interested to see the full story as it becomes available (presumably tomorrow on the Standard Times website). I’m told that the press were not allowed to get too close to the fracas. A student I know was interviewed for the evening news, and he wisely made his way to where the press were — less likely to become the target of a zealous police force. While the press did not get pictures, it’s almost certain that there are student photos and, perhaps, videotape.

Posted by James at October 21, 2004 5:21 PM
Create Social Bookmark Links

once again the over-anxious UMD police force strike fear in to the university. These people now carry guns...guns!! Who's to say if next time someone tries to evade an officer and is shot. It's not far-fetched.

It seems the "troops" surround the crowd (NOT RIOT!!) and back the mass of people into a corner. Once backed in students have but one direction to go...towards the police. Then, anyone who approaches the police is pushed/hit/shackled/pepper-sprayed. How else could this have ended??

There were also stories of an asthmatic girl pepper-sprayed and then denied (DENIED!!!) attention from the ambulance. The story that puts this all in perspective however is of a lone, unfortunate fellow.

A student who happens to be of advantageous height (over 6 1/2 feet tall) is trying to make his way out of the crowd. A line of officers blocks his way. He continues towards them in an unassuming manner. The line breaks. 10-15 "troops" begin to circle and surround the unfortunate. The second line (of canine forces) files in to fill their spot. In an attempt to show his motivations the man raises both hands. Not in aggression. Not in anger. Not in rage. Not even in frustration. He raises them without a sound to form the universal peace sign. No difference, the circle closed and forcefully dropped him to the ground and read his rights.

What kind of a world do we live in where it's the police who fill us with fear?

Posted by: ryan at October 21, 2004 5:36 PM

I'm sorry but did these people have any legitimate business being where they were? Maybe the police did get out of hand, but if everyone had dispersed then there wouldn't have been any problems.

I'm sorry but I have very little sympathy for people hanging around where cars are being overturned or burned (as occurred in Boston) or windows broken, and lightposts overturned. The people involved say that's not how it happened but then the people involved had better say that hadn't they (assuming they are sober enough to remember clearly in the 1st place). The cameras in Kenmore square say that a riot started before the police waded in. Did they need to use the force that they did? I don't know I wasn't there and neither does anyone else who wasn't there.

Also once the riot starts I'm not sure there is any such thing as an innocent bystander. Standing around and watching a riot is just not smart. Standing around and watching police try and break up a riot is even dumber.

Posted by: B.O.B.(bob) at October 22, 2004 8:25 AM

The psychology of the crowd is quite different than the psychology of the individual. There is a sense of anonymity in a crowd that allows the individual to act as he or she would not necessarily act alone.

Witness the video of the crowd in Kenmore Sq. tossing some sort of heavy object into a sign, breaking it, and then tossing it around some more. The average person wouldn't dream of doing such a thing when walking down the street alone, but in a crowd, the anonymity comes into play.

I would not have gone to the Fenway area or, frankly, any other area where I knew there would be a crowd. To put ones self in a riot situation is not smart. It's dangerous both in the sense of physical and legal well-being. In a riot, the police are not going to ask each person what he or she is doing, they're going to round everyone up and sort it out later.

In the UMD situation,I don't think the "let's test out our new equipment" attitude of the police is appropriate, but as Bob said, we weren't there, so we can't really say.

As for the Fenway area riot, I'm not sure how else they were supposed to control 80,000--100,000 people. What a nightmare, for all concerned.

It's very sad that we're talking about this instead of the fabulous, nay, miraculous win. I wish none of this had happened.

Posted by: Patti M. at October 22, 2004 9:07 AM

Sounds like most peaceful protests I have been to. The cops surround you, giving you no way out, then issue a "dispersal order". Yet they won't let you disperse, then arrest you for failing to disperse, using great force to do so - mainly so that they can get off on beating up protesters.

Anytime you hear "failure to disperse", "resisting arrest" or "assaulting an officer" chances are its a bullshit charge. At least that's been my experience.

Posted by: David Grenier at October 22, 2004 10:45 AM

Look, James, the fascists were simply protecting your family from the 'terrorisss' elements within the student mob who hate your freedom.

I propose that we send the 82nd Airborne to Montreal to beat up a few McGill students. Let's fight them there so we don't have to fight them in Boston.

John Kerry would never have beaten up non-violent students so...now you see why he just cannot be president.

Why is it so hard for you people to understand that the Lord is guiding the police officials in their work?

Posted by: Steve at October 22, 2004 10:47 AM

The girl hit by beanbags during the senseless rioting in Kenmore Square last night has died.

Posted by: Mike at October 22, 2004 10:48 AM

It ought to be clear, by the way, that I don't condone rioting (I hope it is clear). But when I look at this young kid who was arrested yesterday, I see a few of the people I went to college with, and a lot of the people I know today.

Property damage is regrettable, but I don't think any cars were turned over here at UMD last night. It just seems like a matter of police clashing with students, instigated by a student (I am assuming) but paid for by many bystanders.

How do you judge that the police have overreacted? They could have prevented the riot if they had just gassed the pub before the game ended. No property damage. Is that a success?

Where is th eline drawn? What is the approch, the "plan" that the police are using? Is the only way not to run afoul of their overreaction to stay in your dorn room at night? Is there somehting inherently wrong with being out after dark?

The answer, apparently, is "yes" if there are also troublemakers about. Because the police clearly cannot tell the difference.

Posted by: James at October 22, 2004 10:49 AM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved