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UMass Amherst students protest police response to Blarney Blowout



Wednesday, March 12, 2014
AMHERST — Some 100 University of Massachusetts students marched across campus Tuesday, demanding an apology from Amherst police for what they say was excessive use of force at Saturday’s Blarney Blowout.

But they aren’t likely to get one. Town and police officials defended the police response, while Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan weighed in, calling students’ behavior Saturday “inexcusable.”

Law enforcement officials made no bones about their belief that authorities must work to prevent alcohol-fueled misbehavior at rowdy parties like those held over the weekend for the sake of public safety.

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Three student leaders addressed a gathering that started at the Student Union and then marched over to the main administration building seeking a meeting with Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

“We represent the prestige of this university. We are UMass, and it’s time we took back our campus,” said Student Government Association Senator Charlotte Kelly. “The constant fighting between students and police has to cease. The violence against one another must cease, and the degradation of the university by portrayal in the media and administration response must cease.”

While two other speakers both said they were angry at students who acted in a destructive manner, they said they were more angry at police officers for overreacting.

SGA President Zach Broughton outlined three demands that were later brought to Subbaswamy’s office. He called for a “direct apology” from the Amherst Police Department “to the entire community of Amherst,” an investigation into what he called the “obscene behavior of select officers,” and a public meeting between student leaders and the Amherst Police Department to discuss how to avert future confrontations between police and students.

“I’m angry at our peers for getting a little violent,” Broughton said. But he said he was more disturbed by the police actions. “This is our collective responsibility. The town of Amherst is a great place to live and a great place to be,” Broughton said. He told students that the SGA, Senate, and Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, an agency of the Student Government Association, are ready to defend and support students against the administration and police overreach by saying, “‘No, this is wrong and we must now stand together to change it.’ ”

Preston Davis, with the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, told the crowd that he had been at the parties, and found the police response a “very scary scene.” He called the measures police took “unwarranted and unnecessary.”

“I do not condone the violence from the students. There were some students who engaged with police and acted unruly and destructive, and they needed to be detained,” Davis said. “But for the most part, people were trying to exit the area in a peaceful fashion and the police took it upon themselves to decide that it wasn’t fast enough.”

Police response

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone and Town Manager John Musante countered that officers handled the Blarney Blowout patrols in a professional manner.

Livingstone said the department trains officers in crowd control annually.

“There’s nothing that concerns me about the actions (of police),” Livingstone said.

“I have complete and total confidence in the public safety response,” Musante said.

Both Livingstone and Musante said that if there are specific complaints about the response, including any inappropriate actions by police, students may follow protocols to file a misconduct complaint.

In a statement released Tuesday, Sullivan noted that UMass and Amherst officials took all reasonable steps beforehand to discourage destructive behavior.

“The mayhem created by this weekend’s ‘Blarney Blowout’ was inexcusable. Our office intends to vigorously prosecute those persons who incited riots, destroyed property, and assaulted police officers,” the statement read.

“Unfortunately, the acts of a riotous few have diminished the reputation of the university and reversed enormous gains made in addressing binge and destructive drinking. No citizen of Amherst, particularly elderly and children, should have to endure unruly crowds. We intend to hold every offender accountable and that’s no blarney.”

Student march

Kelly of the SGA also condemned tactics police used to quell the disturbance and called for solidarity among students.

“Police officers do not have the right to assault students. Police officers do not have the right to enter students’ homes and arrest them on their own properties, and police officers do not have the right to handcuff students and not read them their Miranda rights,” Kelly said.

She criticized the administration’s portrayal of the event in the media and its overall responsiveness to the concerns of UMass students. She said when issues are brought before the administration, they are met with “white noise.”

“Our UMass administration should be protecting us in the media, not disgracing us. Their job is to work for us,” Kelly said. “This is bigger than Blarney, this is a bigger issue than the riots that have transpired here at UMass. This is about students unifying our voices in solidarity and not being silenced.”

The march was organized through social media by the Student Government Association, the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy and other student groups.

As they marched, students chanted slogans such as “Hey-ho, hey-ho, the pepper spray has got to go,” while carrying signs that read “We’re students, not animals,” and “If you don’t want it to be ZooMass, don’t treat us like animals.”

Political science and history major Andrew Clinton, 22, of Carver, said he was marching because he thinks it is “unfair that the students are taking the rap” for Saturday’s debacle.

“I think that it’s really unfortunate that the chancellor chose to blame the students first when 60 percent of the arrests were not UMass students,” Clinton said. “By focusing on the fact that the students were participating in it, they completely missed the point that the police have militarized to some extent around the UMass Amherst area, and all the videos show that there was a rash use of police force against unarmed students.”

Ben d’Haiti, 19, an astronomy major from Maine, said he thinks the campus and police do not consult the students enough, and instead try to “force a solution.”

“We’re demonstrating today with all these posters because we want to show that we want our voices to be heard, and we want to be consulted in these issues and not just treated like animals,” he said.

Students were joined by local residents including Town Meeting member Terry Franklin and Norman Bie of Amherst. Bie said he wanted to come out to the march because he had been victimized by police 30 years ago.

“I’ve always felt that the students have been pushed around in this town an awful lot,” said Franklin.

After their march to the Whitmore Administration Building, protesters asked to speak to Subbaswamy and Vice Chancellor for University Relations John Kennedy to express their demands.

Eventually, Associate Chancellor Susan Pearson and Associate Dean of Students David Vaillancourt emerged, saying that Subbaswamy and Kennedy were away from the campus. A delegation of student leaders entered the building and arranged for a phone conversation between the students and Subbaswamy the next day to set up a meeting.

Complaints continue

Meanwhile, two days after the Blarney Blowout, Amherst police continued to take reports of destructive and assaultive behavior resulting from Saturday’s event.

Monday at 12:10 p.m., a woman reported that she and her family were inside her parked vehicle on Main Street Saturday afternoon when a possibly intoxicated man, covered in blood, picked up a large piece of ice and tried to smash the windshield.

When he was unable to do this, he grabbed onto the vehicle and rocked it back and forth, as if he was trying to tip it onto its side, before his friends got to the scene and escorted him home.

There was no damage to the vehicle, according to police.

The owner of a vehicle parked on North Pleasant Street wasn’t as fortunate. The hood, doors and roof of the vehicle sustained nearly $4,000 in damage after someone jumped on it Saturday afternoon. Police got that report Monday at 12:46 p.m.

A port-a-john a contractor uses on State Street was entered and destroyed Saturday night, possibly by someone who set off fireworks inside it.

Gazette staff writer Scott Merzbach contributed to this story.



AMHERST — Some 100 University of Massachusetts students marched across campus Tuesday, demanding an apology from Amherst police for what they say was excessive use of force at Saturday’s Blarney Blowout.

But they aren’t likely to get one. Town and police officials defended the police response, while Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan weighed in, calling students’ behavior Saturday “inexcusable.”

Law enforcement officials made no bones about their belief that authorities must work to prevent alcohol-fueled misbehavior at rowdy parties like those held over the weekend for the sake of public safety.

Follow @GazetteNET //

Three student leaders addressed a gathering that started at the Student Union and then marched over to the main administration building seeking a meeting with Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

“We represent the prestige of this university. We are UMass, and it’s time we took back our campus,” said Student Government Association Senator Charlotte Kelly. “The constant fighting between students and police has to cease. The violence against one another must cease, and the degradation of the university by portrayal in the media and administration response must cease.”

While two other speakers both said they were angry at students who acted in a destructive manner, they said they were more angry at police officers for overreacting.

SGA President Zach Broughton outlined three demands that were later brought to Subbaswamy’s office. He called for a “direct apology” from the Amherst Police Department “to the entire community of Amherst,” an investigation into what he called the “obscene behavior of select officers,” and a public meeting between student leaders and the Amherst Police Department to discuss how to avert future confrontations between police and students.

“I’m angry at our peers for getting a little violent,” Broughton said. But he said he was more disturbed by the police actions. “This is our collective responsibility. The town of Amherst is a great place to live and a great place to be,” Broughton said. He told students that the SGA, Senate, and Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, an agency of the Student Government Association, are ready to defend and support students against the administration and police overreach by saying, “‘No, this is wrong and we must now stand together to change it.’ ”



Preston Davis, with the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, told the crowd that he had been at the parties, and found the police response a “very scary scene.” He called the measures police took “unwarranted and unnecessary.”

“I do not condone the violence from the students. There were some students who engaged with police and acted unruly and destructive, and they needed to be detained,” Davis said. “But for the most part, people were trying to exit the area in a peaceful fashion and the police took it upon themselves to decide that it wasn’t fast enough.”

Police response

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone and Town Manager John Musante countered that officers handled the Blarney Blowout patrols in a professional manner.

Livingstone said the department trains officers in crowd control annually.

“There’s nothing that concerns me about the actions (of police),” Livingstone said.

“I have complete and total confidence in the public safety response,” Musante said.

Both Livingstone and Musante said that if there are specific complaints about the response, including any inappropriate actions by police, students may follow protocols to file a misconduct complaint.

In a statement released Tuesday, Sullivan noted that UMass and Amherst officials took all reasonable steps beforehand to discourage destructive behavior.

“The mayhem created by this weekend’s ‘Blarney Blowout’ was inexcusable. Our office intends to vigorously prosecute those persons who incited riots, destroyed property, and assaulted police officers,” the statement read.

“Unfortunately, the acts of a riotous few have diminished the reputation of the university and reversed enormous gains made in addressing binge and destructive drinking. No citizen of Amherst, particularly elderly and children, should have to endure unruly crowds. We intend to hold every offender accountable and that’s no blarney.”

Student march

Kelly of the SGA also condemned tactics police used to quell the disturbance and called for solidarity among students.

“Police officers do not have the right to assault students. Police officers do not have the right to enter students’ homes and arrest them on their own properties, and police officers do not have the right to handcuff students and not read them their Miranda rights,” Kelly said.

She criticized the administration’s portrayal of the event in the media and its overall responsiveness to the concerns of UMass students. She said when issues are brought before the administration, they are met with “white noise.”

“Our UMass administration should be protecting us in the media, not disgracing us. Their job is to work for us,” Kelly said. “This is bigger than Blarney, this is a bigger issue than the riots that have transpired here at UMass. This is about students unifying our voices in solidarity and not being silenced.”

The march was organized through social media by the Student Government Association, the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy and other student groups.

As they marched, students chanted slogans such as “Hey-ho, hey-ho, the pepper spray has got to go,” while carrying signs that read “We’re students, not animals,” and “If you don’t want it to be ZooMass, don’t treat us like animals.”

Political science and history major Andrew Clinton, 22, of Carver, said he was marching because he thinks it is “unfair that the students are taking the rap” for Saturday’s debacle.

“I think that it’s really unfortunate that the chancellor chose to blame the students first when 60 percent of the arrests were not UMass students,” Clinton said. “By focusing on the fact that the students were participating in it, they completely missed the point that the police have militarized to some extent around the UMass Amherst area, and all the videos show that there was a rash use of police force against unarmed students.”

Ben d’Haiti, 19, an astronomy major from Maine, said he thinks the campus and police do not consult the students enough, and instead try to “force a solution.”

“We’re demonstrating today with all these posters because we want to show that we want our voices to be heard, and we want to be consulted in these issues and not just treated like animals,” he said.

Students were joined by local residents including Town Meeting member Terry Franklin and Norman Bie of Amherst. Bie said he wanted to come out to the march because he had been victimized by police 30 years ago.

“I’ve always felt that the students have been pushed around in this town an awful lot,” said Franklin.

After their march to the Whitmore Administration Building, protesters asked to speak to Subbaswamy and Vice Chancellor for University Relations John Kennedy to express their demands.

Eventually, Associate Chancellor Susan Pearson and Associate Dean of Students David Vaillancourt emerged, saying that Subbaswamy and Kennedy were away from the campus. A delegation of student leaders entered the building and arranged for a phone conversation between the students and Subbaswamy the next day to set up a meeting.

Complaints continue

Meanwhile, two days after the Blarney Blowout, Amherst police continued to take reports of destructive and assaultive behavior resulting from Saturday’s event.

Monday at 12:10 p.m., a woman reported that she and her family were inside her parked vehicle on Main Street Saturday afternoon when a possibly intoxicated man, covered in blood, picked up a large piece of ice and tried to smash the windshield.

When he was unable to do this, he grabbed onto the vehicle and rocked it back and forth, as if he was trying to tip it onto its side, before his friends got to the scene and escorted him home.

There was no damage to the vehicle, according to police.

The owner of a vehicle parked on North Pleasant Street wasn’t as fortunate. The hood, doors and roof of the vehicle sustained nearly $4,000 in damage after someone jumped on it Saturday afternoon. Police got that report Monday at 12:46 p.m.

A port-a-john a contractor uses on State Street was entered and destroyed Saturday night, possibly by someone who set off fireworks inside it.

Gazette staff writer Scott Merzbach contributed to this story.