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UMass students decry ‘Blarney’ police response

KEVIN GUTTING
A group of University of Massachusetts students march from the Student Union to the Whitmore Administration building Tuesday "to protest the actions of local and campus police departments in conjunction with the chancellor's office" during Saturday's Blarney Blowout in Amherst.

KEVIN GUTTING A group of University of Massachusetts students march from the Student Union to the Whitmore Administration building Tuesday "to protest the actions of local and campus police departments in conjunction with the chancellor's office" during Saturday's Blarney Blowout in Amherst.

AMHERST — Some 100 University of Massachusetts students marched across campus Tuesday, demanding an apology from Amherst police for what they say was excessive use of force at Saturday’s Blarney Blowout.

But they aren’t likely to get one. Town and police officials defended the police response, while Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan weighed in, calling students’ behavior Saturday “inexcusable.”

“We represent the prestige of this university. We are UMass, and it’s time we took back our campus,” said Student Government Association Senator Charlotte Kelly. “The constant fighting between students and police has to cease. The violence against one another must cease, and the degradation of the university by portrayal in the media and administration response must cease.”

SGA President Zach Broughton outlined three demands that were later brought to Subbaswamy’s office. He called for a “direct apology” from the Amherst Police Department “to the entire community of Amherst,” an investigation into what he called the “obscene behavior of select officers,” and a public meeting between student leaders and the Amherst Police Department to discuss how to avert future confrontations between police and students.

“I’m angry at our peers for getting a little violent,” Broughton said. But he said he was more disturbed by the police actions. “This is our collective responsibility. The town of Amherst is a great place to live and a great place to be,” Broughton said. He told students that the SGA, Senate, and Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, an agency of the Student Government Association, are ready to defend and support students against the administration and police overreach by saying, “‘No, this is wrong and we must now stand together to change it.’ ”

Preston Davis, with the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, told the crowd that he had been at the parties, and found the police response a “very scary scene.” He called the measures police took “unwarranted and unnecessary.”

“I do not condone the violence from the students. There were some students who engaged with police and acted unruly and destructive, and they needed to be detained,” Davis said. “But for the most part, people were trying to exit the area in a peaceful fashion and the police took it upon themselves to decide that it wasn’t fast enough.”

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone and Town Manager John Musante countered that officers handled the Blarney Blowout patrols in a professional manner.

Livingstone said the department trains officers in crowd control annually.

“There’s nothing that concerns me about the actions (of police),” Livingstone said.

“I have complete and total confidence in the public safety response,” Musante said.

Student march

The march was organized through social media by the Student Government Association, the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy and other student groups.

As they marched, students chanted slogans such as “Hey-ho, hey-ho, the pepper spray has got to go,” while carrying signs that read “We’re students, not animals,” and “If you don’t want it to be ZooMass, don’t treat us like animals.”

Political science and history major Andrew Clinton, 22, of Carver, said he was marching because he thinks it is “unfair that the students are taking the rap” for Saturday’s debacle.

“I think that it’s really unfortunate that the chancellor chose to blame the students first when 60 percent of the arrests were not UMass students,” Clinton said. “By focusing on the fact that the students were participating in it, they completely missed the point that the police have militarized to some extent around the UMass Amherst area, and all the videos show that there was a rash use of police force against unarmed students.”

After their march to the Whitmore Administration Building, protesters asked to speak to Subbaswamy and Vice Chancellor for University Relations John Kennedy to express their demands.

Eventually, Associate Chancellor Susan Pearson and Associate Dean of Students David Vaillancourt emerged, saying that Subbaswamy and Kennedy were away from the campus. A delegation of student leaders entered the building and arranged for a phone conversation between the students and Subbaswamy the next day to set up a meeting.

Gazette staff writer Scott Merzbach contributed to this story.

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