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Mar 09 2014

Riot Police Use Tear Gas, Pepper Spray on UMass Students: Blarney Blowout 2014

A UMass student being detained by police. (AP Photo/The Republican, Robert Rizzuto)

A UMass student being detained by police. (AP Photo/The Republican, Robert Rizzuto)

Former University of Massachusetts, Amherst students may be familiar with the “Blarney Blowout,” a pre-St. Patrick’s Day party. The Blarney Blowout “holiday” is supported by local bars and restaurants so that students may celebrate before they go on spring break. Former students – like myself – can also tell you the school has a reputation for parties (google “Zoo Mass”), and that both state and local law enforcement take these parties very seriously. Police had a presence at last year’s party, but decided to kick it up this year with pepper spray, tear gas, and 73 arrests.

Police report that the party began off-campus yesterday, March 8th, around 10 a.m. They state that roughly 4,000 people participated in the party, which later got “unruly” and “unsafe” due to drunkenness and “people falling.” Other reports state there were approximately 1,500 individuals. Police arrived on the scene after several noise complaints and calls about students fighting. Police asked the crowd to disperse and, when students did not follow orders, began using pepper spray, tear gas, and paintball-style guns. Students responded by throwing beer cans, bottles, and snowballs at police.

Four officers sustained minor injuries, but nothing more serious than a cut to the hand. Dozens of students were also injured, including one young man who was seen with a bloody face as police removed him from the scene.

In an added effort to curb crowds, local police ordered local bus services suspended. Part of the Blarney’s tradition is a bar-crawl type meetup, where the party moves from place to place. As police began making arrests and publicizing those arrests, social media went ablaze with the party’s next location. Hundreds of students also posted statuses on Facebook or wrote Tweets, warning other party goers about the pepper spray and teargas.

The University reports that prior to the party, they had sent out emails stating that misconduct would not be tolerated. They also sent letters to students who were disciplined after last year’s party, reminding them of possible consequences. Even so, many local residents and students alike have stated that police could have dispersed the crowds in a much more peaceful way.

Police made a total of 73 arrests, with charges ranging from inciting to riot, failing to disperse, disorderly conduct, liquor law violations, and assault and battery on an officer. Though police state they had to be rough with students who did not “submit,” there are no reports of individuals being charged with resisting arrest. Some have been released on bail, but others are being held.

Umass has denounced students’ “unruly behavior” and stated that arrested students face both suspension and expulsion.

Still, students who escaped arrest seem upbeat, posting to social media things like, “Blarney Blowout 2014 was a blast, even though I got tear-gassed.”

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