Friday, May 16, 2008

Oh, if only it were over something other than the right to drink lots of beer

The details are still being sorted out about the riot that occurred last night on Fountain Ave.

What's clear is that parties in several houses spilled into the street. Students were intoxicated. Wes Public Safety tried to clear the street, and in failing to do so, called in Middletown Police. The students taunted the police. The police moved in, and all hell broke loose. Bottles thrown, pepper gas dispersed. Handcuffs. Tasers. Resistance. Arrests.

To the extent that it happened, there is, of course, no excuse for the stupidity of students nor for any aggressive brutality of law enforcement agents.

Today, students are indignant.

I'm not certain to what extent they are entitled to their anger.

This was a Beastie Boys protest. Do any of us really care about fighting for the right to party?

If this was about a free speech issue, about the right to protest freely, about an attempt to silent an anti-war or anti-government march, then I'd be standing right there next to the students in front of town hall.

I know the semester's over, but the library's still open. Read your history. There is heroism in the protests in Birmingham, the free speech riots at Berkeley, the demonstrations at the Democratic Convention in 1968, because something larger was at stake.

This melee at Wesleyan was about the right to get as drunk as possible, and still be able to walk, and then exercise some privileged drunken macho bravado (I thought Wes students might consider themselves above the antics that occur at State universities) in the face of agents of the law, some of whom have their own issues with macho bravado, and some of who are simply trying to do their job.

Any advocate of civil disobedience will tell you, if you break the law you can expect to be arrested. If you consider yourself to be in the right morally and ethically, then you can use the arrest to demonstrate your differences with the law, and perhaps change that law.

If you only want the right to be drunk and disorderly, well, you may see the inside of more than one cell in your life, and never have moved society forward one iota.


Anonymous said...

i would just like to point out that the libraries on campus closed at 5 oclock that day.

Anonymous said...

you have also not recognized in this article the attack dogs and the students who were sent to the hospital

Anonymous said...

I don't think any student thinks of this as a fight for our "rights" to party. I think there are a lot of things to be indignant about in this situation that are justified (police brutality is the main one)-- and I don't think the act of forwarding society is solely limited to constitutional rights and civil liberties.

Anonymous said...

Alas, I have to agree.. This is hardly a great cause.

I'm reminded of the lyrics from "Cake"

Excess ain't rebellion.
You're drinking what they're selling.
Your self-destruction doesn't hurt them.
Your chaos won't convert them.
They're so happy to rebuild it.
You'll never really kill it.
Yeah, excess ain't rebellion.
You're drinking what they're selling.
Excess ain't rebellion.
You're drinking,
You're drinking,
You're drinking what they're selling.

Stephen H. Devoto said...

Well said! I sincerely hope that there will be some students willing to say the same thing.

Ed McKeon said...

All my sympathies to the kids who were injured in any way.

Ideally, Lincoln Ave would have been blocked off, and the party allowed to proceed without confrontation.

I'm not against parties, partying, or beer. I like all three. But when one is drunk enough to confront a cop, one is likely to make a bad situation worse.

I will wager that the kids who were in court and the hospital today wish, in the cold light of day, that they had acted differently last night.

Finally, police brutality is wrong, and absolutely wrong - it's an abuse of authority that's disturbing and disgusting (and I do acknowledge that in my blog post). But throwing a glass bottle in a crowded setting is reprehensible too.

Pepper gas pellets can be deadly or injurious (a woman died after the Red Sox won the World Series, and I know of a college-aged young man who lost an eye). But a tossed bottle can do the same kind of damage.

There are some bad eggs out there on both sides of this issue, I suspect. An asshole is an asshole whether he's wearing a Wes tee or a police uniform.

Anonymous said...

Merely asking a police officer his shield number could in some quarters be considered confrontational. That doesn't make them drunk.

Don't get me wrong; the students should not have allowed themselves to be manipulated like that. That's a real-world lesson worth learning.

But, there are larger issues at stake, too. One of the principal reasons Middletown is so spooky at night is its distinct lack of foot traffic after midnights. Since when has one needed a van to get from one end of High Street to the other? Or, Pearl Street? Or, Broad? There are so few places to travel by foot after sunset that the streets have been all but abandoned to the predatory. That shouldn't be. Please, let's let students congregate in front of their own houses.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment above. Wesleyan students are not fighting for the right to party. It is anything but that. Although I agree that some kids did violate the law and were belligerent, the police did not handle it the way they should have. They hurt people that were just standing on the sides, who were neither violent, nor belligerent.

steadyjohn said...

Thanks Ed for mounting an appeal to reason and reasonableness.You are right, there are bigger causes than "the party".

Tenured Radical said...

As a blogger myself who has often been criticized for responses to things that are too quick and idiosyncratic, I don't want to come down too hard on you. But -- allowing for the fact that students were drunk and undoubtedly overreacted because of that -- that the police showed up with dogs, tasers and pepper spray in the first place is outrageous. Tasers are sometimes a lethal weapon, not a harmless crowd-control device. Pepper spray, if it gets in the eyes, can cause permanent damage. To be attacked and bitten by a dog is a terrifying and possibly life-changing experience. At its worst, the party was a noise nuisance: students were not trying to interfere with a function of government, nor were they doing anything more harmful than being a pain in the ass to some of their neighbors. Students did not deserve riot control tactics typical of Birmingham in the 1960's or the West Bank for acting as kids do when they are confronted by authority. While I wish our students had simply been compliant and not escalated the confrontation, not being deferential to unreasoning, violent authority should not make anyone -- Wesleyan students or Middletwon citizens -- subject to assault and battery by the police.

The Middletown Police response is a function of the ways law enforcement in general has been amped up in the past eight years by Homeland Security money, using a non-existent threat of domestic terrorism as an excuse. The MPD used this as an excuse to make an example of Wesleyan students -- nothing more, nothing less. And an argument that says the students deserved it because they didn't follow orders is just absurd. If your kid doesn't do what you say, do you have the moral -- much less the legal -- right to whip him?

There is tremendous resentment of Wesleyan in Middletown, something the university has been trying to address and needs to keep working on, and in this case, the MPD are the leading edge of that resentment. But there are two issues internal to Wesleyan that also need to be addressed: Wesleyan Public Safety's decision making here, and their possible grievances in terms of what they have to deal with all year (rudeness, aggression from students when they are trying to do their jobs) in relation to such events while also being available 24-7 to be cab drivers, open locked dorm doors, and transport students in various states of inebriation and disrepair; and the possible consequences of Wesleyan's policy of selling off its houses, which will bring private homeowners in Middletown into closer contact with student events like this one.

Claire Potter
Professor of History and American Studies
Wesleyan University

Anonymous said...

the only thing thrown from a wesleyan student that night was a half empty can of beer, not a glass bottle. it hit the hood of the car, don't think it would have gone through the window and hit the cop driving..second clearly not about the right to party, and third,the cops knew there was a peaceful way of getting everyone off the street, whether wesleyan students were drunk or not,what they did was disgusting. I was there the entire night and as a sober observer, I was in disbelief.

Ed McKeon said...

My apologies to John Wesley. I inadvertently deleted your comment while I was rejecting another comment which made a personal attack on another reader who had made a comment. The attack was made, anonymously, of course.

So if you want to reconstitute your comment about playgrounds and basketball courts downtown, I'll gladly post it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ed!
Deleting my first comment has actually allowed me to compose my thoughts a little (go figure.) I think one of the underlying sore spots people keep returning to is this idea that Wesleyan students think they should be subject to a different set of laws. This begs the age-old question, what exactly is there for young people in Middletown to do, especially after dark? We know that there is a perfectly natural temptation to hang out on High Street on Saturday nights. I can understand that. I'd be doing the same thing if I were a sixteen year old. But, other than Wesleyan events, the sidewalks of Middletown seem to shut down tight as a drum after sunset, as adults prepare for work the next morning. I don't think Wesleyan students want to operate outside the law. But, they do wonder why the options are so limited for ALL young people in Middletown? Given the events at Fountain Avenue last Thursday, maybe a midnight to dawn basketball curfew in a public playground would be too much to handle. I honestly don't know. I guess, at this point, I am just asking for other people's thoughts.