The Blarney Blowup: Students need to take responsibility for their actions, as they lead to police reactions

By Justin Surgent

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Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Don’t get me wrong, I love my celebrations and traditions at the University of Massachusetts. I don’t sit in my room and write this as someone who’s never taken part in parties or bar crawls. I’m not scolding you – I’m one of you. But the way that 4,000 of us acted on Saturday was not responsible, and with the growing talk of the police reaction, we cannot forget that that was something that was sparked by student action.

The original message sent from Interim Vice Chancellor Enku Gelaye before the event stated that the celebrations were not sanctioned by the University, and provided a list of fines and punishments that would be dealt out if a student were found within the premises of the festivities. The email even gave easy-to-follow instructions for students who couldn’t figure out on their own what to do when police ordered them to disperse. Students were well aware of the repercussions but chose to follow through with celebrations regardless.

Whether or not this warning email helped incite the riot, it doesn’t take any blame away from the students. If any student consciously reacted to it with the immature “they shouldn’t have told me not to do it, now I must do it” mentality, they don’t deserve to be enrolled at such a university. We are adults, and we must be held accountable for our actions.

It has also come to my attention that 60 percent of the persons arrested were not UMass students, but instead locals or students from other colleges. While this may seem to shine a ray of light on the now-minority of arrested UMass students, the reader must remember one thing: Those not from the University still have some connection to the community.

Just as signing another student into your dorm leaves you, the signee, responsible for their actions, bringing fellow young people onto campus or the surrounding area leaves the responsibility of their actions on those who brought them. While it would be nice to take the mindset of “we’re all adults; we make our own choices,” it is still the fault of the UMass students who acted as catalysts by bringing these people here.

The casual bystander should feel little remorse for those arrested or disciplined by the police, if only by looking at the math of the situation. With close to 4,000 students to deal with and significantly fewer officers, being in the shoes of an officer at that time would be terrifying. Not to mention that the students were not in a completely stable state of mind after having consumed excessive amounts of alcohol.

On March 11, I attended a protest, as press, against the violence of the police that took place at Blarney Blowout. While a few students did come up and tell their own stories of maltreatment, and many also noted that the students themselves were acting rowdy, they forgot one major aspect of the discipline they received: They were not supposed to be there.

Regardless of their own sobriety or rowdiness within the crowd, they were attending an event that was noted by the campus as against regulation, which was being monitored and then broken up by the police. Seeing a strong and non-lethally-armed police force standing around should give the casual bystander enough sense to put distance between themselves and that area.

That day, I saw young people so intoxicated that they could no longer stand, falling down time after time on the streets and sidewalks, or completely unaware that, while trying to carry food across the dining hall, they were, unbeknownst to them, carrying most of it on their shirts and pants.

As a police officer, to have to deal with a crowd of people that out-of-touch with reality would be a daunting task. That, paired with a mob with no true purpose for gathering, would leave the officers left to control the situation utterly dismayed at their options for crowd control and dispersal.

Another thing to note is that the Brandywine/Townehouses complexes are not homes to solely students, but also to other members of the community, whom the officers are there to serve and protect. While the idea of “Blarney Blowout” may have seemed like a blast to the students partaking, many do not consider how it affected the lives of those who call that area home. Not only did students make that area nearly uninhabitable for the day, but the trash and destruction left behind is something that non-university residents have to deal with too.

I’m not saying I fully agree with the tactics of the police on Saturday. I have previously been on the front line of such events, photographing for campus media, and have seen instances of undeniably excessive force. Even after identifying myself as media, I have been pushed, shot at with pepper balls and screamed at, but it’s a risk I’ve taken and a reason why I didn’t partake in this gathering, even as a photographer.

When it comes to this force, however, I place most of the blame on the students, solely for being there, as every time these situations arise, they are given ample opportunity to leave the premises.

A citizen’s right to assemble only lasts as long as there is lawful and peaceful assembly, which the “Blowout” was not, as acts of public, underage drinking and violence brought the gathering into the realm of illegal activity. Students knew ahead of time the repercussions of participation, and the police response to such events is no secret across the campus. This wasn’t their first rodeo, just as it wasn’t ours.

Before students accuse the officers sworn to protect us, they need to consider the conditions they themselves put those officers in, paired with the insurmountable task of taking on 4,000 drunk college students. Responsibility is coming to terms with the reaction to one’s actions, and it is something I’ve seen very little of from students in reaction to Saturday’s events. The police actions, although arguably overdramatic, were a product of the actions by the students they are here to protect.

Justin Surgent is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]