I tried to run, but a few yards ahead of me I saw another cloud of tear gas. I felt myself trapped like a deer in headlights. My eyes were on fire and snot was streaming down my nose. The entire time I thought to myself, “What did I do to deserve this?”
[pics] Communication senior Laura Kelch asked the question on many Spartans’ minds after the MSU’s men’s basketball team’s loss to North Carolina in the Final Four tournament in St. Louis last Saturday night.
Unfortunately, rioting has become an infamous pastime at MSU, and last weekend was no different. Tear gas, 43 arrests and two hours of chaos did result; however, there was one change: students and officers seemed to have switched roles. Spartan students were the ones unprepared for this year’s events, giving the police an upper hand, in contrast to previous disturbances.
“It didn’t seem like anyone was doing anything but standing before the tear-gassing began,” said Kelch, who was one of the thousands gathered at Cedar Village. “The police were trigger happy with the tear gas; people were getting hit with cans and others were vomiting.”
MSU students had received several letters, including ones from the basketball coaches themselves, ASMSU and faculty encouraging responsible celebration after this year’s Final Four game, but the warnings may have stirred up an adverse reaction. “I feel rioting was built up, and students felt they were ‘supposed to cause chaos,’” business administration and theatre sophomore Max Lund said.
However, other students felt they were never given the chance to act maturely, because they were tear-gassed right away. “When I walked outside after the game, the streets were already filled with people gathered from both MSU and other universities celebrating our making it to the Final Four,” music education freshman Scott Eckersley said after observing the fiasco. “This was short-lived, because everyone was tear-gassed right away.”
“The key phrases to getting tear-gassed were: ‘Go Green,’ ‘Go White,’ and ‘MSU,'” he said. “I think they could have broken the crowd in a better way; they were a bit over-the-top.”
One residence hall night receptionist commented that practically everyone he let in that night got tear-gassed by the police, and several East Lansing businesses had to shut their doors because too many people were rushing in to seek shelter.
The police justified the tear-gassing by saying people were throwing bottles and rocks at them. The main “events” of Saturday night included one person sacrificing his couch to set ablaze, a broken arm and an officer getting shot by a slingshot device. East Lansing law, in response to 1999’s riots, made it illegal for four or more people to assemble with the intent to riot or being near a crowd and remaining with the intent to riot. Therefore, any crowd on the streets of East Lansing on April 3 could have been interpreted as illegal. The police were within the law to respond, but did they act with the best judgment?
“We heard information in advance that there were plans to cause problems. People stockpiled items to burn, and were planning on rioting, whether the game was won or lost. We were concerned, but hoped for the best,” MSU Police Captain Juli Liebler said.
Unlike in 1989 and 1999, when the police needed time to prepare, officers anticipated this year’s game plan. They spent $1,200 for a speaker system installed on the rooftops of Cedar Village to warn students before they began tear-gassing, and were also manned with a portable PA system. The department feels they prevented a lot of damage and violence because they were prepared.
“We had several meetings with eight police departments,” Liebler said. “We were equipped with arrest vans and additional officers who were trained in dealing with large crowds. Officers wore protective gear, including chest pads, shin guards and less-than-lethal tools such as chemical ignition (tear gas) and pepper spray.”
The MSU Police Department has received both compliments and complaints. Some people were satisfied with how they handled the crowds, feeling no one should have gathered in the first place. But it remains that most students were disappointed with gassing that in most cases was preemptive.
“For the future, we’ll talk about what seemed to work and what didn’t, and we may change a few things. The tactics were effective, and an overall success, given the circumstances,” Liebler said.
According to MSU’s spokesperson and Vice President of University Relations Terry Denbow, the university is still gathering as much information as they can from people living on and off campus, fire-marshals, MSU and East Lansing’s police departments, and from video tapes before making any broad statements about what went wrong and who is to blame.
“It is too bad some people’s behavior caused others to be subjected to tear gassing,” Tenbow said. “Only 21 out of the 43 arrested, and 4,000 people gathered were MSU students and that is pretty good. I would hope in future celebrations that everyone is trusting and confident in each other, and that is a shared commitment on all sides. I am not against celebrating, I have called all students to show their side of the story, and if we were behaving appropriately, than they (the police) should be the ones people are unhappy with.”
It will never be known whether or not this year’s civil disturbances would have amounted to anything at all if officers would not have gassed so heavily, or if they prevented a larger riot. However, no one can deny that less property damage and overall chaos occurred compared with 1999’s melee, and that most students acted civilly.
No matter who was to blame, March Madness has lived up to its name at MSU.

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