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January 3, 2018

Students, police and administration culpable in Blarney’s ‘Sad and Difficult Day’

Students protest the police response to the 2014 Blarney Blowout celebration and march for student power. (Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian)

Students protest the police response to the 2014 Blarney Blowout celebration and march for student power. (Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian)

Between 9 a.m. Saturday, March 8, and 4 a.m. Sunday, Amherst Police Department (APD) officers arrested 55 people, at least 18 of whom were held on charges of failing to disperse and inciting a riot. Police issued an additional 28 summons. Legal action has been taken against at least 70 people relating to the events of Blarney Blowout.

Sixty percent of those arrested had no connection to UMass, student or otherwise. Only 20 UMass students were arrested, along with one UMass employee, who was in possession of a firearm.

Media outlets around the country have covered the aftermath of Blarney, including Time Magazine, The Huffington Post and Good Morning America. This coverage has presented students as riotous criminals and police actions as necessary for the protection of the town. The reality is far more complex.

A small group of violent students took action to incite violence, and, hopefully, those responsible for starting the conflict are those who sat in jail cells on Saturday and had to make bail. Drunken violence is abhorrent. On this, both the Collegian and Chancellor Subbaswamy agree. Attacks on police officers, from verbal incitement to throwing glass bottles, never should have happened, but a multitude of conditions preceded the violence and contributed to its occurrence.

The administration of UMass and officials of Amherst made two preparations for Blarney. The first, on March 3, was Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye’s 412-word email to the student body reminding them that Blarney is unsanctioned by the University and outlining potential consequences of poor choices. The second was the presence of riot police around Amherst on the day of the event, seemingly waiting for events to get violent. Neither of these actions was successful in mitigating the event and its community impact, but both helped to incite violence by pitting students and police against each other and creating a standoff.

There is video evidence of a police officer firing “pepper balls” into the upper-floor window of a private residence and of a police officer pepper spraying a non-violent and non-resistant student. Ideally, they are bad apples, just as those students who incited violence are, but with the continued occurrence of violent clashes, the pattern of pepper balls, flash bombs (at the Southwest riots) and injured students indicates a deeper institutional failure both at the APD and UMass Police Department.

Chancellor Subbaswamy sent an e-mail on March 9, as seems to be the norm, stating his “outrage” at the impact of the event and “condemning” the “outrageous behavior” of students. He continued that he would “redouble” the administration’s efforts to “avert” future clashes. We hope that this redoubling does not mean sending two emails and posting twice as many police officers.

More than 100 students gathered in front of the Student Union on March 11. Speakers included SGA President Zac Broughton, who demanded for an apology from the APD. The students marched to Whitmore Administration Building and requested a meeting with Chancellor Subbaswamy and Vice Chancellor for University Relations John Kennedy. Organizers and administrators agreed to meet on March 27 for a “Public Accountability Forum.”

A March 11 statement by UMass President Caret and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Henry Thomas stated “that the actions of all parties – University, municipal, commercial and others – should be considered.”

The Collegian agrees and hopes that all media coverage and future administrative planning takes the actions – or inaction – of the APD and the UMass administration into account before blaming the event entirely on students and thereby belittling the value of a UMass degree.

Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian Editorial Board, members of which can be reached at

9 Responses to “Students, police and administration culpable in Blarney’s ‘Sad and Difficult Day’”
  1. NYorker says:

    The obvious solution is UMass students need to register to vote in Amherst. They can and should take over town government through the democratic process and make changes to police procedure.

  2. Larry Kelley says:

    Geeze, about the only one you didn’t blame is former President Bush. In a cart-and-horse sort of way, if students did not gather in overwhelmingly large numbers and then start to vandalize private property and throw things, the cops would never have fired or sprayed Oleoresin Capsicum.

  3. Dr. Ed Cutting says:

    1. Would someone please explain why Larry Kelley wasn’t arrested? IF there was a LAWFUL (i.e “legally valid”) order for everyone who wasn’t a cop to leave the area, and he isn’t a cop (which he isn’t) than why wasn’t he arrested?
    He has posted on his blog about “almost” karate-kicking students and being in the police line, the latter verified by photographs.
    If Enku Gelaye is going to kick students out for merely appearing in a picture, then why shouldn’t Larry Kelley be treated as hasrshly as he is demanding the students be?
    2: As a boy, I was taught that the job of a police officer is to arrest bad people — those who did/do bad things. OK, why is there no demand that the individual “bad apples” that did clearly criminal things at least loose their badges if not be arrested and criminally prosecuted?
    Fair’s fair, isn’t it — if you break the law — no matter who you are — you are held accountable.
    3: Why does it even matter what the students did? Rodney King was high on heaven knows how many things and driving something like 90 MPH. None of that justified what was recorded on videotape (yep, tape — this was 1991) and none of what some students (or NONstudents) might have done justified what has been recorded on more advanced technologies now. The Town of Amherst needs to police it’s own officers — and if it can’t do that, then the FBI’s “Color of Law” division ought to step in and do it for them.
    4: Don’t bother with filing “internal affairs” paperwork — it’s a waste of time. Two national organizations — FIRE and SPLC — both showed that UMPD Detective Lisa Kidwell LIED — and nothing came of even that. (Actually, something did, and I will never EVER forgive the University of Massachusetts for it — and I *am* writing a book about it…) Kidwell’s report and the video of the incident is still there for anyone to see — and
    .5: Why doesn’t the riot gear have badge numbers on it — BIG numbers like on football players uniforms — so that (like in football) those who commit fouls can be penalized? If things were done by certain miscreants whom the APD/UMPD wishes to fire, then wouldn’t everyone (including the respective chiefs) benefit from having big numbers on the chests & backs of the officers in question? We don’t want to accuse the wrong person of something, after all…
    6: Why hasn’t there been a challenge to what is — at best — a misuse of what the SJC has described as a “1750 British Regulation” which it has *NEVER UPHELD* — and tossed out the conviction of prisoners who were rioting on the grounds that they had a right to be in the prison. Well folks who live in apartment complexes have a *right* to be there — private property notwithstanding — (same as the stores in a private mall — that’s what “rent” is for) and making an announcement a mile away does not constitute proper notice under the 14th Amendment “Due Process” clause.
    Declaring “Martial Law” is something else entirely — and that is what the Amherst & UM Police have been doing for some time now. Kinda like Bull Connor used to do.
    7:: There is a “right to privacy” — that’s what Roe was about — and notwithstanding the fact that Massachusetts still has (at least) two valid sodomy statutes on the books, cops can’t bust into people’s apartments to see who’s sleeping with whom. There’s a right to be left alone. And hence while someone may be doing something illegal (underaged drinking), if one is doing it in private, there really isn’t anything the state can say about it. And that includes the CSC — it legally is the same think as kicking a student out of school because she had an abortion, and I don’t think that even the twits in 227 Whitmore would try something like that.
    8: And above all else, why aren’t tough questions being asked of Enku Gelaye and David Vaillancourt? Aren’t they supposed to be providing student affairs services & programming for the students who live off campus? Isn’t that the whole rationale of being able to hold such stuents accontable for CSC violations off campus? AND CAN EITHER NAME ONE THING THEY HAVE DONE THIS YEAR??? One program they had for students who live in Puffton/Brandywine, or one “Irish Heritage/Pride” event, or one ANYTHING…
    As one who has a graduate degree in Student Affairs (which Enku Gelaye does NOT — she has a BA in Journalism and a law degree, although is not a lawyer) — I am offended by the complete collapse of social programming which has ocurred at Mass over the past 20 years or so. RAs used to be popular people who were resources for students in the dormitory, Student Affairs (or whatever it was called at the time) used to put on programs which met critical developmental and social student needs. Excepting the social justice stuff — which meets a *different* need — all of that is gone now. All of it.

  4. dan coughlin says:

    thank you to the law enforcement community.they responded to a situation,saw a large group of student age people with open containers of alcohol.i am willing to bet some were not of legal drinking age.when told to disperse,the group throws bottles,cans,snowballs ,etc at the officers? and it is the “over-zealous”cops fault?
    too bad; the majority of students are at umaas for the intended purpose,they get lumped in with the blow-out crowd.
    thank you to the student-age military personell,who are around the world fighting to protect the freedom of the students who choose to get drunk,and throw things at police.
    maybe the people who are condoning the students behavior,and criticsing the law enforcement community,should re-evaluate their morals.

  5. Rob says:

    I can’t believe that you can get a graduate degree in Student Affairs. That’s funny.

  6. Alum and Mum says:

    I totally blame the administration:

    1) Admissions Fail — The university is in the position to be much more selective than in it’s entire history. Why are you admitting animals?
    2) Organize on-campus parties for events like this where non-students can be screened out. Serve alcohol so people don’t drink off campus at the apartment complexes where non-students will gather.
    3) Use students for security like we had during concerts, etc. It was very peaceful. Have you cut down on the events? That’s probably part of the problem. Have many outdoor events where people can drink beer peacefully ON campus. It worked for us back then just fine.
    4) Be proactive. At this point, we’ll see the term “ZooMass” for at least another decade now. Thanks a lot for tarnishing millions of people’s degrees.

  7. Dr. Ed Cutting says:

    Rob, it’s worse than that — far worse. What has happened over the past 20-30 years is the development of a student affairs “culture” where people speak only to themselves, where they listen only to themselves to the point where it isn’t that they don’t care about the students anymore as much as they can’t even comprehend the students anymore.
    It’s a very insular culture — the radicals of the 1960s only hired people more radical than they, who now have hired a third generation more radical still — it’s very much like incest, there is no intellectual diversity. They talk a good talk, but they simply “don’t walk the walk” — they have adopted a very patronizing attitude toward students whom they consider to be not quite worthy of being treated like adults. Worse, they are bigoted and prejudiced — they are like the racist schmucks who considered Willie Horton reflective of all Black men when in fact he very much is an outlier. And I hate to tell people but 22 arrests out of a (let’s say) 22,000 student body is 0.1% — literally “one in a thousand” — and in almost all contexts “significantly insignificant.”
    (This is, of course, assuming that all of the arrests were justified — which very much appears not to have been the case. But for the sake of argument (and to keep the math simple), let’s say they were.)
    Team Enku is going to react as if those 22 students represent all 22,000 — notwithstanding that there are 21,978 students who are very much different from the 22. At best the other 21,978 will be ignored — but her job isn’t to ignore students…

  8. Sam W. says:

    The board’s opinion that on the March 3 email from Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye’s (and thanks for counting how many words were in his email) reminding students that Blarney is unsanctioned by the University and outlining potential consequences of poor choices was one of two conditions that contributed to all this trouble just shows how immature the “Board” is.

    So, let’s get this straight – the Collegian Board is suggesting that 1) had the Chancellor not sent the email, and 2) had police not been prepared, that none of this would have happened. Yeah right.

    This poorly thought out and written opinion piece is another example of the world gone backwards. Let’s blame the folks who are charged and paid with keeping the peace for inciting drinking, drugging, and being generally obnoxious and a disturbance to the peace. Let’s have the University remain silent about an event which has a ridiculously bad track record, and then see the student body, student government, and the “Board” in an uproar that they were never “warned.”

    There is no more accountability of the idiots. Had folks not been drinking for the sake of drinking and getting drunk and disturbing the peace and damaging private and public property and being loud and obnoxious, there would have been no need for such a police presence. If this event did not result in the same situation year after year after year, there would have been no reason for the University to email anyone about it.

    The Collegian has officially joined the alter-universe. A world defined by “shades of grey” instead of right and wrong. A world that suggests the University is somehow culpable because they knew what to expect from the village idiots. A world that is fast to blame law and order when the idiots take over.

    To the whiners and spoiled cry babies who have no sense of personal accountability and think they have a right to do what they want when they want wherever they want, good luck in life.

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