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Anatomy of a Riot

Some took offense at the activities below being described as a riot.


I didn't. What happened was a riot. Period.

President Bruininks, once again, needs to demonstrate some leadership. There is a "Who's on first" quality to responses from various and sundry university underlings that leads one to wonder whether OurCEO takes this stuff seriously. And this is not the first time, in recent memory, that he has been strangely silent when events that are very damaging to the university's reputation have occurred.

CEO, chief fund raiser, the public face of the University of Minnesota? The buck stops on his desk in Morrill Hall.

From the Daily:

[And kudos to the Daily. They have done a helluva job this year on a variety of topics. And, until lately, with little cooperation from our administration. Nasdrovia!]

It was early Sunday morning, April 26, by the time several dozen riot police — and several hundred raucous partygoers — found their way off Dinkytown streets. Glass shards from broken bottles and dented cars lined the 1300 block of Seventh Street Southeast, the remnants of an hours-long riot that marred a celebration that began the day before as a high-spirited block party.

But things got out of control.

Alcohol fueled tempers and a street fire, and both ultimately exploded into high-stakes chaos that would risk the future of a decades-long tradition at the University of Minnesota.

The Spring Jam Riot put Spring Jam itself on the table.

Students face possible sanctions, in court and at school. University leaders fear a reputation tarnished beyond repair. Scrutinized police say they did everything they could to diffuse the mayhem.

“This incident, I don’t think, represents the kind of conduct, behavior and sense of responsibility that I’ve come to appreciate from the University of Minnesota student body,” University President Bob Bruininks said. “I think this was a breakdown that we should try to learn from.”

[And how long did it take to figure this out? "I don't think... " Think? ]

A tarnished reputation

On April 13, 2003, hundreds contributed to the destruction of on- and near-campus property , with damage totaling more than $150,000.

The incident began as a celebration of the University’s Division I NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship , but quickly escalated to aggressive behavior that included tipping cars, setting fires and the destruction and looting of local businesses.

The Riot Act

In 2006, three years after the Hockey Riot, the University amended its code of conduct to extend disciplinary reach off campus.

Among these provisions is a subdivision titled, plainly, “Rioting.”

“Rioting means engaging in, or inciting others to engage in, harmful or destructive behavior in the context of an assembly of persons disturbing the peace on campus, in areas proximate to campuses, or in any location when the riot occurs in connection with, or in response to, a University-sponsored event,” the code states.

Bruininks said it’s too early to say how administrators will apply the conduct code in this case, the first notable broad application of the off-campus amendment since its approval.

“I think it’s very important to be fair to our students, but at the same time expect them to be accountable for their behavior,” he said. “In the deliberations, I’m sure we’ll come out with fair and just outcomes.”

The court of law

The night of the most recent riot, Minneapolis police at the scene arrested and later filed misdemeanor charges against eight people, including five enrolled University students.

Sgt. Jesse Garcia, spokesman for Minneapolis police, the agency that responded to the riot, said the marking rounds are “mainly used to pick out instigators and agitators.”

Police arrived at the scene en masse and clad in riot gear shortly before 11 p.m., hours into the block party that had, by that time, turned into a large street fire surrounded by a largely alcohol-fueled crowd of several hundred.

Some of the most raucous partygoers threw glass bottles at police, who lined up several dozen strong and advanced on the crowd.

At times during the police response, they seemed to fire projectiles arbitrarily, including down alleyways. Police also used concussion grenades and chemical irritants, such as pepper spray and tear gas, to disperse the rowdy crowd.

University Police Chief Greg Hestness said his department spent $2,099 in overtime pay to staff enough officers to handle the unruly pack of people.

Despite criticism, Garcia said last week that preliminary information indicates police tactics were “necessary and appropriate.”

Who’s to blame?

In the sobering week that followed the Spring Jam Riot, administrators, students and community members all demanded the answer to a single question: Who’s to blame?

Among the contributing factors that surfaced included a Minnesota Daily headline, the last-minute cancellation of a student-sanctioned performer, the unexpected nice weather and a slow police response. Others thought those involved shouldered all of the responsibility.

“I don’t know,” Bruininks said when asked if this or future incidents could be prevented. “I think that’s a great, great question that we should ask ourselves, and we should not be afraid to pursue the answers.”

[OurCEO, driven to discover the answers to life's persistent questions... And not afraid to pursue the answers either. Makes you sort of want to choke up.]

The Minnesota Daily

Two days before the Spring Jam Riot, The Minnesota Daily’s most prominent headline read, “No party patrol for Spring Jam.”

Rinehart said many students clipped the headline out of the newspaper to hang it up in their dorms, celebrating the perceived lack of authority for the upcoming weekend.

“Many, many people think that headline played a major role,” Rinehart said. “I think the headline was a real mistake.”

[For shame, Mr. Rinehart, for shame...]

Hestness echoed the sentiment, calling it “very poor judgment” on part of the Daily.

Rinehart added that he doesn’t blame the headline, “because it shouldn’t be the presence or absence of law enforcement that determines how people behave.”

[So which is it, Mr. Rinehart, do you think the headline was a mistake or do you not blame the headline. This sort of doublespeak is only too familiar around here.]

Young people get out of hand

Police and University administrators have each addressed the riot as a case of young people behaving badly.

“What concerns me most is that there’s some students who think this was totally OK, that it was just a party,” Rinehart said.

Both Bruininks and Rinehart expressed relief that no one was seriously injured in the melee, but said students need to mull over their role in what happened.

A long way to go

Just more than a week after the riot, administrators struggle with the difficult decision of whether or not to continue Spring Jam, a tradition that began in the 1940 s.

Bruininks said he hopes to find a way to keep Spring Jam from being discontinued.

“I’m only speaking for myself, but I believe it would be a shame to cancel Spring Jam,” Bruninks said. “I think the students, faculty and staff who live through Minnesota winters have every right and reason to want to celebrate the onset of spring. So I think Spring Jam is a good idea.”

However, he and Rinehart agree there is a lot of work to do.

“We have to set conditions in which people are inclined to make better decisions about their behavior and recognize their impact. We clearly have a long way to go on that,” Rinehart said. “We must find a way to do that. There’s not a silver bullet here, but it’s going to take real cooperation.

You had better start thinking about this problem long before next Spring. There is this football stadium opening on campus, know about it? Whether only the swells can swill has yet to be determined, but you can bet that the ethanol content of the air on campus will be higher than normal on Saturdays when there is a home football game. I hope this is a lesson and a warning to you. By the way, if you are truly concerned with alcohol on campus, Google "alcohol policy" and "University of Iowa." We could learn a lot from the Hawkeyes in other ares such as graduation rates, indebtedness of graduates, and oh yes, football.

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