AMHERST (AP) — The chaos at the University of Massachusetts over the weekend during a pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration brought new attention to an old problem affecting colleges across the country: How to deal with alcohol-fueled revelers during the March festivities.
Celebrations near the UMass campus in Amherst spiraled out of control Saturday as police dealt with thousands of drunken and unruly people during the annual “Blarney Blowout.” More than 70 were arrested and four officers suffered minor injuries.
Like other colleges and towns, UMass and Amherst officials took action to try to prevent problems. The university warned students last week that there would be an increased police presence Saturday, and Amherst police prepared for large-scale disturbances based on past problems. Six people were arrested in Amherst last year.
At Penn State, the school paid licensed liquor establishments to stay closed this month during the unofficial drinking holiday known as State Patty’s Day for the second year in a row. State College, Pa., Police Chief Tom King said the strategy, along with a fraternity ban on parties, helped lead to a 75 percent decrease in arrests and citations this year compared to 2011 — the fake holiday’s heyday.
In Champaign, Ill., University of Illinois and local officials have been dealing with the so-called “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” for years.
The News-Gazette newspaper reported there were dozens of arrests and nearly 260 tickets issued for city ordinance violations in Champaign on Saturday, but no major injuries. Students were told of the dangers of binge drinking and the consequences of being arrested during pre-celebration educational campaigns.
In Amherst, this year’s celebrations became unruly in several areas around town despite efforts by UMass officials and local police.
Amherst police Capt. Jennifer Gundersen told The Republican that the daylong partying was “extremely disturbing and unsafe.”
“Perhaps one of the worst scenes we have ever had with drunkenness and unruliness,” Gundersen said. “It is extremely upsetting. It is very dangerous.”
UMass denounced the “unruly behavior” Saturday, and spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said students who were arrested will be reviewed under the school’s code of conduct and sanctions could include suspension or expulsion.
Many UMass students and other young people posted their thoughts and experiences during Blarney Blowout on Twitter. Some said the police response was excessive, one person said their nose was broken by a beer bottle that someone threw and another said they were “teargassed.”
Longtime Amherst resident Larry Kelley has railed against drunken UMass student partying for the past several years. He reported on Saturday’s events on his blog, “Only in the Republic of Amherst.”
“Yesterday was the worst day in this town for public rowdy-ism,” Kelley told The Associated Press. “We still had a horrendous experience yesterday, horrendous.”
Police from the town and university and state troopers in riot gear converged on a crowd of about 4,000 people at an apartment complex shortly after noon. Authorities said people were destroying things, and as officers began to disperse the crowd, they were pelted with glass bottles, beer cans and snowballs.
After quieting the disturbance, several thousand people assembled near a frat house. That gathering became dangerous and out of control, officials said, and when officers tried to clear the crowd, they again were attacked with bottles, rocks, cans and snowballs.
Pepper spray was used to disperse the crowd because of the size and “assaultive behavior,” police said.
Three officers were hurt when they were hit by bottles, and one was injured while attempting to make an arrest, Gundersen said. None of the officers were seriously injured.
Police say charges included inciting to riot, failing to disperse, disorderly conduct, liquor law violations and assault and battery on officers. Some of those arrested had been released on bail by early Sunday, police said, while others were held.