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

By Editorial Board

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 [email protected]