UMass students rally in protest of ‘excessive police force’ used during Blarney

By Aviva Luttrell

(Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian)
(Justin Surgent/Daily Collegian)

A group of more than 100 University of Massachusetts students rallied in front of the Student Union Tuesday afternoon in protest of what they see as excessive police force used during the “Blarney Blowout.”

Students speakers, among them Student Government Association President Zac Broughton, outlined several demands of the Amherst Police Department and the University, and passed around a petition before marching to the Whitmore Administration Building to call for a public meeting with Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Vice Chancellor John Kennedy.

“All of the videos that I saw showed police shooting into third story windows with rubber bullets, dispersing crowds, tear gassing people in the face, using what seemed like unnecessary force,” said Andrew Clinton, a senior political science and history major protesting at the event.

“I think that police should have focused on deescalating and managing the conflict instead of trying to forcibly disperse the crowds, which only sort of escalated the situation, broke down trust between the students and the police and also created lots of animosity,” Clinton added.

“What was supposed to be a fun event turned into a really dangerous and chaotic situation,” said UMass student Katie Connell, megaphone in hand, to the crowd in front of the Student Union. She added that the administration must rethink how they handle these types of situations, and students should be involved in the decision.

Preston Davis, secretary of diversity for the SGA, said that although he does not condone violence on the part of students, the police action at the event was unwarranted and unnecessary. He said that students were not given enough time to disperse before police began using pepper spray and the event became dangerous.

“Nobody comes out in these situations on top,” he said. “We don’t condone violence on either side.”

Broughton, who also spoke to the crowd, outlined three demands he called “non-negotiable.” These include a formal and direct apology from the APD, an immediate investigation into the actions of its officers and for the town of Amherst to sit down with student leaders to come up with solutions for the future.

“With “Blarney Blowout,” it’s something that happens every year, but it seems like the only thing anyone in the town or Amherst Police is interested in is blaming students and telling UMass students to stay on campus and get away from it all,” Broughton told the Collegian before the rally.

“To handle it different, we need to all sit down and figure out a community-wide solution with everybody, rather than just blaming everybody,” he said, adding, “I think we need to start talking about the story that isn’t being told, that students were treated like animals by police officers and that it’s unacceptable just because they’re students. They’re adults, they’re members of this community – they’re supposed to be protected by those police officers and they were not.”

SGA Senator Charlotte Kelly, who spoke last, said, “Events like this can be prevented … if and when we are involved in the conversation.” She added that the administration should be protecting UMass students in the media, not disgracing them.

Several students walked around the crowd asking for signatures on a petition calling for the University, police and students to work together to create safe and organized spaces for students to celebrate in a peaceful manner.

Following the rally, protesters marched to Whitmore shouting chants such as, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Police brutality’s got to go!” and “We will never be defeated, the students, united.”

Students gathered on the ramp in front of the entrance for 15 minutes before shifting to the door closest to the stairwell leading up to the Chancellor’s office, continuing to chant the entire time.

At approximately 1:11 p.m., Associate Chancellor Susan Pearson and Senior Associate Dean of Students David Vaillancourt came out of the building. Jenna Grady, a leader of the protest, informed the crowd that Subbaswamy and Kennedy were out of town. This announcement was met with boos.

Grady outlined the students’ demands to Pearson and then a delegation of six people, including Grady, met in Pearson’s office to schedule a meeting with the Chancellor.

After 10-15 minutes, Grady returned and announced that the meeting will be either March, 26, 27 or April 1 in a public space. She said that if it does not happen within two weeks of spring break, students are “ready to escalate” with more demonstrations.

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected]. Katrina Borofski, Catherine Ferris and Stephen Sellner also contributed to this report.