Police use tear gas and pepper spray to disperse block party

Alex Sirney -- April 10th, 2010

4/12 Press conference updates
dumpster fire at block partyThe “Springfest” block party was broken up Saturday evening by police using tear gas and pepper spray after party-goers threw beer bottles and rocks at police officers.

The confrontation occurred in the Village Lane area of Harrisonburg during an annual block party that police estimate drew 8,000 revelers.

Criminal Investigation Division Commander Lt. Kurt Boshart said that while the incident was still under investigation, the understanding as of Sunday afternoon is that Harrisonburg police officers initially attempted to disperse the crowd with the handful of officers present after receiving calls from a property owner asking them to break up the party and after several party-goers were taken to the hospital and EMS and police had trouble accessing the area. Police had also received reports of property damage.

Boshart said that the gathering had grown to “8,000 strong,” in contrast to the 1,000 to 2,000 normally seen at similar block parties.

As the officers in standard uniform attempted to disperse the crowd some were hit with rocks and beer bottles. They pulled out and called for backup, following the procedure for civil disturbance. Officers from the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department, the JMU Police Department, the Staunton Police Department, the Augusta County Sheriff’s Department, the ABC and the Virginia State Police supplemented the HPD, bringing the total to about 200.

The officers took positions on the perimeter in riot gear and declared the block party to be an unlawful assembly, which Boshart said is only done in cases of threat to persons or property. Once an unlawful assembly is declared individuals must leave the premises, and officers ordered those present to disperse using loudspeakers and a text message blast through JMU.

Some members of the crowd dispersed as officers showed an increased presence, but when the full crowd failed to disperse officers advanced, firing tear gas and pepper spray. Riot batons, beanbags and rubber bullets were not used, though Boshart said “foam batons,” a type of round fired from the same launcher as tear gas and bounced off the ground toward a target, were employed in one or two cases.

Boshart stood by the use of force in this case, saying that the behavior of the crowd dictated the police’s response. He also emphasized that chemical munitions – that is, tear gas and pepper spray – are the safest way to disperse a crowd.

As the crowd moved towards Sully Drive and dispersed, Boshart said three or four dumpsters were set on fire.

The full crowd dispersed after several hours and police maintained a strong presence throughout the night, including two State Police helicopters.

Boshart said that about 12 officers received a variety of minor injuries, including one whose shoulder was hurt when a thrown rock broke a riot shield. His understanding is that about 30 party-goers had been treated at the hospital, though the exact number and whether their injuries occurred before, during or after the dispersal was unclear. Boshart denied accounts that a police dog was injured.

Pictures from the event posted to Twitter (search for “JMU Springfest” “JMU police” or “JMU tear gas,” be aware of potentially offensive content) show large crowds and police in riot gear, and later posts reflect the confrontation as do videos posted to YouTube. Be aware that search engines have returned some sites that install malicious software for related searches.

Boshart expressed disappointment that the situation escalated.

“The results come in at the end of the day and nobody wins,” he said. “Our concern is for the community as a whole.”

He also acknowledged that people would likely criticize the police response and said that it was an important discussion to have, but he defended the police action.

“Our purpose is to restore order [in cases of civil unrest],” he said. “The people creating [these situations] are not going to like how we do it.”

Boshart said that about 30 people had been arrested, saying that the police did not have the resources to make large numbers of arrests and disperse the crowd.

The Breeze reported Thursday that police were expecting the block party, though it was originally scheduled to be held in the Fox Hills area on Devon Lane.

The HPD is still currently investigating the incident. Mayor Kai Degner has asked for a report to be made at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Hburgnews has posted an email JMU President Linwood Rose sent JMU students Sunday afternoon comments sent by Degner in an email Sunday morning.

This came as JMU hosted undecided high school seniors for its “Choices” open house and promotional events this weekend in an area that is home to many JMU students.

The last time a similar incident occurred in Harrisonburg was in the Forest Hills housing area during a block party in August of 2000 that involved a crowd of roughly 2,000 people. Boshart said that after-action reports and discussion led to equipment and procedure improvements that were applied to this situation.

A CNN iReport has been filed and The Breeze, WHSV and the Daily News-Record have reported on the story as well.

JMU spokesman Don Egle was not immediately available for comment.

Representatives from Rockingham Memorial Hospital declined to comment.

Picture taken from YouTube video posted by kurtzliveshere.

[UPDATE: Re-written after Lt. Boshart commented on sequence of events and police response.]
[UPDATE: Link to Rose’s and Degner’s comments and CNN iReport.]
[UPDATE: Rubber bullets not employed according to Boshart and links to earlier article from The Breeze.]
[UPDATE: Link to The Breeze’s Monday article and caution about malicious software in search engine results.]
[UPDATE: New information and clarifications from press conference on 4/12.]

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104 Responses to “Police use tear gas and pepper spray to disperse block party”

  1. TV-3 is reporting capsicum has been used.

  2. devon says:

    its not unconfirmed they did use tear gas everyone is freaking out about it

  3. Youtube video says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wexfpL9yuII Here’s a YouTube video of the tear gassing and riot.

  4. Kelsey says:

    Tear gas was not necessary. There was NO student riot…until the police came with tear gas and riot gear. They start blasting tear gas grenades broke car windows, and were crazy. Don’t believe this, ask the people that were there. The police are going to be sued.

  5. Joe says:

    ok i;ll confirm this for you. I WAS TEAR GASSED BY SWAT for NO REASON. we were not rowdy or out of control UNTIL the police began to force us out of Forest Hills.

  6. Youtube video says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wexfpL9yuII Here’s a YouTube video of the tear gassing and riot.

  7. Mike Deaton says:

    I didn’t know you could get a beer truck to make a delivery to your house/parking lot.

    p.s. How much longer before there’s a CNN sub-station in Virginia?

  8. Jennifer says:

    The Federalist write up on the riot:
    http://thefederalistjmu.webs.com/apps/blog/

  9. Laura B says:

    There has been a police helicopter circling the neighborhoods off Port Road for nearly an hour. Kinda unsettling to have helicopter searchlights coming in your windows….

  10. Emmy says:

    WOW! I don’t even know what else to say about that. Looks pretty crazy, but wonder if it was crazy enough for tear gas.

  11. Emmy says:

    A friend of mine just told me a little of what she saw driving near there. Sounds like the police probably did the right thing if this is all true.

  12. Renee says:

    Yeah I heard from a friend driving by that there were tons of police and a fire truck heading that way, so I looked up what people were saying on Twitter. Hope no one was hurt!

  13. JGFitzgerald says:

    As Deb and I drove by the convenience store at the top of the hill we saw an ambulance pulling out of Devon Lane with a Budweiser truck, a large one, right behind it. Some kind of metaphor there, I’m sure.

  14. Lowell Fulk says:

    Was there a riot? Was property being destroyed? Were people in danger? I’m confused…

  15. JGFitzgerald says:

    This youtube says it was before the HPD arrived (to generally do what we pay them to). Vandalism, thrown objects, and broken glass. It’s fair to say there was a threat to public safety in this one.

  16. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Looks like a stupid drunken mess. Picture 41 is of special note. http://thefederalistjmu.webs.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=8701083

  17. Deb SF says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7xofDi899g

    This one shows a young guy questioning one of the first responders as to why the 911 calls from the students weren’t be answered, why no ambulances were heading into the middle of the melee to treat the kids who were affected by the tear gas. The responder says: “They’re not going to come in all this mess … When somebody creates this kind of mess, you lose a lot of things, including emergency services.”

  18. Alex Sirney says:

    Thank you all for the links. The story has been updated to include local coverage and I’ll do my best to continue to update the story as details become clear.

  19. Renee says:

    Just watched the videos. This is ridiculous.

  20. Renee says:

    Story in The Breeze from before the event. See the comment.
    http://breezejmu.org/2010/04/08/police-to-pressure-springfest/

    Also, are there normally 200 cops on hand in Harrisonburg? Did they beef up the police force in case springfest got out of control, or was a ‘crackdown’ planned?

    I understand people were throwing beer bottles & cans, and there was a fire, which is really bad behavior, but the videos of tear gas being shot into the middle of a large crowd of drunk students looks like overkill to me. Did they have any loud-speakers announcing to everyone to disperse before shooting the tear gas?

    Also, the video of the cop saying ambulances won’t respond when there’s a scene like that? They don’t bring in ambulances as part of the standard riot procedures? People normally get hurt during riots, right?

    There was also a police officer on the evening news talking about how the police have to “protect the community” and he mentioned how city residents’ tax dollars are being spent to pay for all of the police, etc. that were there. It’s like he was trying to rile up anti-student sentiment in the interview.

    I’m sorry, it just doesn’t sound right.

  21. Renee says:

    Oh, I meant to also say it’s interesting you mentioned Choices day. I’m sure the admissions office is really pleased this is happening right when students are deciding where to attend school…

  22. Scott Rogers says:

    Renee: I’m surprised to hear where you land on this issue.

    I spoke this evening to a resident whose backyard faces Village Lane and to a city police officer who was on the scene. Both indicated that it was much of the same as what happened in 2000 — the people at the party (not all JMU students) ignoring the police officers who were urging them to disperse, and then resorting to throwing glass bottles, rocks, etc at the police officers.

    To offer another perspective on what you are saying is “bad behavior” — from The Federalist:

    “My best friend is in the hospital, he got hit in the face with a ******* 40, a Budweiser 40, it was like a ******* war zone,” University of Columbia student Frank Dano said. “I was standing there, dude got hit with a ******* big-*** 40. Eight-inch ******* sharp glass in his skull.”

    If the police are not able to peacefully intervene to control the property damage, dumpster and vehicle fires, and glass projectiles — what are they supposed to do — leave the scene and let it continue?

    To answer a few other questions, per the DNR, no, there was not a crackdown planned. There were not 200 officers on hand until the officers started asking people to leave and were being pelted by glass bottles. The officers then regrouped and called in more officers. And yes, they used loudspeakers to ask everyone to disperse — many people left, but roughly 1,000 would not leave. The remaining became more stalwart in their opposition to police intervention, then throwing bottles, pieces of wood, and coolers at the officers.

    You also connect the police’s desire to protect the community with trying to rile up students — really? The resident I spoke to on the adjacent street had people tearing boards off of her fence and urinating in her yard. If this party had been behind your house, and the police had unsuccessfully tried to peacefully break it up, what is it you would then think the officers should do? Leave?

    Unfortunately, there will certainly be people over the next few days and weeks who think the police actions were not appropriate. While I believe that will be the minority opinion, I think most of those people will be coming to that conclusion with only a small set of the facts, and only thinking about it from a rather narrow perspective.

    I’m not opposed to college students having fun, and I hold JMU students in VERY high regard, but I think the police reaction in this situation was more than merited given the circumstances.

    • Renee says:

      Scott: No, I don’t think the police shouldn’t respond. And I said it seemed that officer was trying to rile up anti-student sentiment with his comments in the interview on TV, not rile up students.

      It just seems the police over-responded and caused more harm. It seems 200 cops should be able to suppress or arrest the students that were throwing bottles, not shoot tear gas deep into a large crowd and cause a stampede.

      I also think the drunk students likely over-escalated things after the riot police showed up because they were excited something was happening.

      I don’t blame the police for responding, I just think it was somewhat of an overreaction. And I think they should have focused on minimizing student injury and protecting the non-violent student bystanders, too.

  23. Renee says:

    I’m up waiting for something on my computer to finish, so I went back to looking at videos.

    Apparently the Federalist was there making a documentary so they had cameras: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ub5lxboMGds&feature=related

    Here’s the ‘before’ crowd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2zZl3RHny8

    This looks like a bunch of bored drunk people starting to be crazy and throwing things: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjA9yKnsXJY&feature=related

    Here’s the crowd after the initial attempt to stop the party & bottles being thrown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pigaSIYeEFQ

    This is the one from above after the riot police arrive:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wexfpL9yuII

    people running from tear gas:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/cwar007#p/a/u/1/gYgc_KjgCQs

    post tear-gas drunken excitement from having been a part of something:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NgPA-IcKKQ

    I’m sure there will be more videos uploaded tomorrow. Interesting that in these modern days everyone has a cameraphone and a crowded event like this can be recorded from so many perspectives.

    Looks to me like boredom and drunkenness + bigger-than-expected crowd wanting entertainment led to a few people getting crazy and being dumb, which led to a few cops trying to stop the whole party, which led to drunken protests, which led to SWAT team and tear gas and people getting hurt.

    For those of you that aren’t from Harrisonburg or don’t attend JMU: this rarely happens. It’s generally a peaceful quiet little town with a big college in the middle that has standard weekend apartment parties.

  24. Scott Rogers says:

    It seems 200 cops should be able to suppress or arrest the students that were throwing bottles, not shoot tear gas deep into a large crowd and cause a stampede.

    So….200 police officers finding, suppressing and arresting the 50 violent students amongst 5,000 in attendance — when many more than the 50 get irate and violent when the police offers try to do anything. That certainly doesn’t sound very realistic to me, but yes, if that had been possible, it certainly would have been a better outcome.

  25. Renee says:

    Scott, I’m not trying to bash the police or minimize what occurred, I’m just trying to put it in perspective and make observations about the severity of the response. Even the term ‘riot’ is a misnomer. Even if there were 50+ people throwing glass bottles at the police, the officers could protect themselves with their shields, advance on the crowd if necessary, and arrest those that didn’t disperse.

    This was not a crowd of thousands of people participating in a violent protest shooting weapons and thowing bombs – this was a large out-of-control drunken crowd of 20-somethings that were stupidly throwing glass objects, who needed to be brought under control so people wouldn’t get hurt.

    I think calling riot police in was the right move, because they are trained to break up large crowds of unruly people, but I don’t think throwing tear gas into a dense crowd of drunk students, most who probably were not attempting to harm the officers, was a good idea.

    I also don’t think mentioning on a TV interview basically “look how much these drunk students are costing the city” was the right thing for an officer to say immediately following this situation. The police focus and response should be solely about controlling the crowd, minimizing injury and danger, and arresting those that were being violent.

  26. Emmy says:

    Since I wasn’t there I can’t know if the police did the right thing. But, when you enter college you are technically an adult and someone is paying a great deal of money for you to be in college. Going to parties can be part of your college experience, but passing out drunk on the side of a busy road shouldn’t be. It’s time to grow up and show respect to others. Show respect for the community that is your temporary home, show respect to the school you attend and the people who live here permanently. Act like adults, and when the police ask you to do something that is quite reasonable respect them. You can enjoy yourself without acting like morons.

    Getting yourself tear gassed for the sake of your drunken party isn’t a noble cause.

  27. megan says:

    Go get ’em, Emmy!

  28. Lilly says:

    In the federalist article linked above, someone is quoted as saying “From oppression comes revolution”. Seriously? Not being allowed to drink when you’re underage, not being allowed to throw beer bottles at people, and not being allowed to destroy property is a form of oppression? I think it’s time for someone to visit Cuba or North Korea. Talk about being spoiled and over-priviledged,

  29. Brooke says:

    I agree, Emmy.

    The other thing that I’ve seen brought up is that apparently a large number of non-students showed up and were also involved. Now, yes, it was students that threw the party, and so if you throw a party and it gets out of hand you are at least partially responsible. And where students were involved in the throwing of objects and disobeying the officers they should be held responsible and face sanctions, both legally and academically. My issue is how things like this tend to turn into “all JMU kids are awful” even when non-students are involved. When non students are involved I rarely hear the same type of outcry raised. It usually gets back to, “Well who threw the party?” as though that somehow absolves them?

    Seems to me it’s a problem with young people in general behaving irresponsibly, not respecting authority and thinking the rules don’t apply to them, including college students, NOT just JMU/college students.

  30. Brooke says:

    Renee, seems to me the police did exactly what they needed to do with THAT many people that refused to disperse and started throwing stuff and setting it on fire. Anyone who didn’t leave when told to is a darn fool. If the police tell you to leave, you LEAVE. With a crowd that large, it’s not heading anywhere you want to be.

  31. Emmy says:

    I agree Brooke. Anyone behaving that way is responsible not just the students. I certainly don’t think all JMU students are bad people either.

    At one of the very few parties I attended when I was younger I noticed that things were starting to get a little too big and a little too crazy. I knew it was only a matter of time before the police arrived and I wanted nothing to do with that so I left. If you wait until the police do get there and they ask you to go – GO! Is there no where else you can enjoy yourself on a Saturday night?

  32. Deb SF says:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/lundahbs

    This one appears to be before any direct intervention by the police- the cops are lined and geared-up, standing, watching, waiting. Dumpsters are blazing, students are throwing stuff at the police, burning stuff is getting scattered, lots of screaming and posturing.

    The audio indicates delight and amazement on the part of the students at the show they’re watching; a couple sits on a rock between the camera and the cops just taking it in. There’s a sense that the students feel as though they’re in some cross between a video game and a 3D movie. “Dude, we gotta put this on YouTube.”

    A slide that comes up at the end, meant ironically, I think: Protect and Serve. But, yeah. The cops are protecting the entire community, including the students from themselves.

  33. Delataire says:

    The city could follow the mall’s example and make an ordenance which says “No more than five people may be gathered at any place at any time.” Problem then solved.

  34. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Fascinating state laws related to “unlawful assembly”:

    § 18.2-406. What constitutes an unlawful assembly; punishment.

    Whenever three or more persons assembled share the common intent to advance some lawful or unlawful purpose by the commission of an act or acts of unlawful force or violence likely to jeopardize seriously public safety, peace or order, and the assembly actually tends to inspire persons of ordinary courage with well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order, then such assembly is an unlawful assembly. Every person who participates in any unlawful assembly shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. If any such person carried, at the time of his participation in an unlawful assembly, any firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.

    § 18.2-407. Remaining at place of riot or unlawful assembly after warning to disperse.

    Every person, except the owner or lessee of the premises, his family and nonrioting guests, and public officers and persons assisting them, who remains at the place of any riot or unlawful assembly after having been lawfully warned to disperse, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.

    >§ 18.2-408. Conspiracy; incitement, etc., to riot.

    Any person who conspires with others to cause or produce a riot, or directs, incites, or solicits other persons who participate in a riot to acts of force or violence, shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.

    § 18.2-411. Dispersal of unlawful or riotous assemblies; duties of officers.

    When any number of persons, whether armed or not, are unlawfully or riotously assembled, the sheriff of the county and his deputies, the police officials of the county, city or town, and any assigned militia, or any of them, shall go among the persons assembled or as near to them as safety will permit and command them in the name of the Commonwealth immediately to disperse. If upon such command the persons unlawfully assembled do not disperse immediately, such sheriff, officer or militia may use such force as is reasonably necessary to disperse them and to arrest those who fail or refuse to disperse. To accomplish this end, the sheriff or other law-enforcement officer may request and use the assistance and services of private citizens. Every endeavor shall be used, both by such sheriff or other officers and by the officer commanding any other force, which can be made consistently with the preservation of life, to induce or force those unlawfully assembled to disperse before an attack is made upon those unlawfully assembled by which their lives may be endangered.

    § 18.2-412. Immunity of officers and others in quelling a riot or unlawful assembly.

    No liability, criminal or civil, shall be imposed upon any person authorized to disperse or assist in dispersing a riot or unlawful assembly for any action of such person which was taken after those rioting or unlawfully assembled had been commanded to disperse, and which action was reasonably necessary under all the circumstances to disperse such riot or unlawful assembly or to arrest those who failed or refused to disperse.

    There are others, too. Seems like a pretty low threshold for “unlawful assembly”, and very open to interpretation.

  35. AP VA says:

    Deb SF-
    I was there when the “riot” started, that video was taken at least a half hour after the police began to intervene.

    On another note, a bunch of 20 something students who were simply enjoying the party had to deal with a riot because a hundred or so idoits began to be violent, and I for one only saw people running, pushing or fighting behing me, and police in front of me, so I didn’t know where to go, so I simply sat on the hill to try and hide from the beer bottles and wait for the police to come and help me. By doing this, I received a tackling smack from a riot shield, and then watched as the pepper spray guy sneaked PAST THE RIOT SHIELDS and INTO THE CROWD next to me, where he sprayed my friend directly in the face with pepper spray. He gave him no warning and he had no opportunity to back away or run, he was AMBUSHED.

    That’s what angers me, my friend respects the law and will back up or go another way if told, but he wasn’t, he was pepper sprayed for standing. Just standing, with both and up, no beer bottle in his hand, no obscenities being screamed. NO CHANCE.

    Then grabbing my friend, I spent the next two hours trying to help him with this pain you can’t imagine. Thank god for a JMU student allowing me to use their bathroom to clean my friend up enough to bring him home and get him in a shower. The pain I was in from barely touching him was almost unbearable, so his pain must have been insane.

    So I end mostly with no anger toward police intervention, just confused that by trying to protect us, they made it worse. Before they arrived we had moved away from the mass circle of people throwing bottles and we were safe on the hill, until the police arrived and began to push these protestors deeper into the “calmer” crowd. I believe police should have dispersed the crowds, but done it in a different way.

  36. Tim says:

    The heart of the issue is why the HPD was trying to break up the party in the first place. Was the dumpster on fire before they arrived in force? Was there a massive fight? Was someone hurt and an ambulance couldn’t get through? If so, or countless other important reasons for them to break up the gathering, I don’t have any issue with the HPDs actions. But, if they just showed up and tried to disperse the crowd because they felt it was time for the party to be over, HPD are the instigators, and deserve the blame for what happened.

  37. JGFitzgerald says:

    Tim,

    Are you saying that arson, vandalism, noise violations, public drunkenness, underage drinking, and assaulting police officers are only OK after the police show up? And the reason I ask is that I’m missing the cause and effect here. It wasn’t the HPD’s fault.

  38. Tim says:

    Nope, none of those things are ok. I’m saying that 200 HPD showing up in riot gear was going to cause a “riot,” even if one wasn’t already in progress. I’m curious what the conditions were that lead to the decision to make such a show of force. I can certainly believe that the situation had broken down to the point that it was necessary. I can also believe that it was relatively incident free event and the site of all those officers in riot gear is what spun it out of control. I don’t know what happened, but that decision was the watershed that dictated how the rest of the events unfolded.

  39. JGFitzgerald says:

    You might glance at the comment on the other thread on this topic. Cops and medical personnel couldn’t get in to treat injured people. That’s not the HPD’s fault. If the HPD for some bizarre reason wanted to have an event like this, they have a target-rich environment. That these events don’t happen more often is a tribute to the restraint and patience of the HPD and its leadership.

  40. Emmy says:

    Based on the before police pictures I’m sure there were a number of phone calls to the police for noise and other violations. I believe that the size of the crowd is what caused them to feel that riot gear may be necessary at some point. A group of police officers much smaller than the group of students gathered cannot safely enter a crowd like that without additional protection.

    And I’m sorry but having the police show up at a party with riot gear does not mean you have to start a riot! That’s got to be the lamest justification for the actions of those involved I’ve heard! If I’m having a few friends at my house for a cookout and someone calls the police who arrive at my home and I feel that their appearance is unwarranted, should I think go crazy and start screaming at the officers? No, that would be insane. Just as insane as starting a riot because the police come in riot gear. Use your brains (which you should have considering you got into college) and when the police show up with that equipment, realize that it might be time to break up the party and go home!

  41. Scott Rogers says:

    Tim,

    No, 200 HPD did not show up in riot gear and cause a riot that wasn’t already in progress. From the DNR….

    Around 4 p.m., police declared the scene an unlawful assembly.

    Boshart said officers first went in and asked people to leave the area but were pelted with beer bottles. At that point, he said, police pulled out to regroup.

    Commanders on the scene called in HPD’s Civil Disturbance Unit and additional riot teams from the Virginia State Police and Staunton Police Department.

    Boshart said officers were determined to regain control.

    “We will restore order,” he said as police began to take action. “We will make sure the neighborhood is safe.”

    For about two hours, dozens of officers showed up to the command center set up near the Days Inn off Port Republic Road, near the Interstate 81 overpass.

    Around 6 p.m., about 200 officers were on the scene, many of them in full riot gear, and headed into the crowd.

    Hopefully this also answers your question of what the conditions were that lead to the decision to make such a show of force — HPD had tried dealing with the situation and were met with violence.

  42. republitarian says:

    To quote an oldie but goodie….

    “You gotta fight, for your right…… to party!”

  43. Renee says:

    Let me first say that I’m not taking the students’ side over the police’s side. I know it’s because of some students’ stupid/illegal/violent behavior that the cops had to respond.

    All I’m saying is that the police need to make sure in these situations not to cause additional harm, and that tear gassing and pepper spraying the whole crowd does not seem like the right approach to me.

    Again, I wasn’t there, and I’m not trying to take sides, and I know the students caused the problem in the first place. I’m just saying that I’ve been hearing a lot of reports of many ‘bystanders’ being injured by the overwhelming response, which seemed unnecessary. In addition, I think the ‘riot response’ should have included ambulances to make sure injured people could be tended to right away, and the police in the videos saying ambulances wouldn’t be responding and about taxpayer money paying for everything seem to point to the wrong mentality on the part of those officers.

    Again, I’m not blaming them for responding with riot gear, and I said above I think that was necessary in order to control and disperse the rowdy crowd. I just think the police should have focused more on removing the threat (people throwing things) and protecting those that weren’t being violent, and making sure anyone that was hurt was immediately taken care of. It doesn’t appear from the videos or from first-person reports that the amount of force, especially the tear gas being shot into the crowd, was appropriate.

  44. Scott Rogers says:

    I’m just saying that I’ve been hearing a lot of reports of many ‘bystanders’ being injured by the overwhelming response, which seemed unnecessary.

    The police asked everyone, including bystanders, to leave — several hours before the “overwhelming response” was employed.

    It seems that those bystanders had plenty of time to leave….

  45. Andrew says:

    What happened was illegal. JMU students hold Springfest every year at the same time. It is generally peaceable and the police know to expect large crowds of people. The story posted involving fights and bottle-tossing is questionable in its veracity, and no one was warned when riot police showed up and started firing tear gas canisters into crowds of students. Apparently a mass text was sent out warning students not to converge on the street where the block party was being held AFTER the police showed up and started gassing kids. The police had also shut down the block party that happens on the Friday night before the next day’s events, which may have been one reason for the large influx of people on Saturday. In using brutally excessive force, the Harrisonburg police department was responsible not only for a violation of the first amendment, but in hospitalizing several students. Great job!

  46. Alex Sirney says:

    Thank you all for the discussion and your input into events. I’ve spoke with Lt. Kurt Boshart of the HPD and have re-written the story to reflect his comments, and it should provide a more clear picture of the sequence of events.

    I edited this story rather than create a new post so that the comments and URL were the same. Old links in the story are still there, too.

    Please continue to post your personal accounts and experiences, and feel free to post additional questions you’d like me to ask. I’ll do my best to get answers for you.

  47. Andrew, drinking in public anywhere in the City, except for FundFest, which has an ABC permit, is a crime itself. Was any permit obtained for you to “exercise your first amendment rights”, which are lawfully, and routinely restricted in our country.

    Furthermore, I’m pretty sure over the past 18 or so hours, I’ve come across YouTube footage of bottles being tossed.

  48. Tim says:

    I understand that the situation began to elevate after the students were asked to disperse and didn’t comply, they should have done as the police asked them to.

    But my question has to do with the state of the party when the police decided it had to be broken up and what factors led them to believe it was necessary. It isn’t against the law for students to have a party, even a very large one, so what was the reason this one was shut down? I feel that it’s a pretty important question since the decision on the HPDs part to shut the party down pretty much guaranteed that the event would end as it did. What was happening that was so dangerous that it needed to be stopped? Could the party have just run it’s natural course with less injuries and confrontation?

  49. Kevin says:

    Since a large portion of their education is supported by the taxpayers of Virginia, I would like to see such support withdrawn from those JMU students who were arrested or who can be identified as willingly ignoring the requests of law enforcement officers. If they want to continue as students at JMU, they can pay their way in full. The taxpayers should not be responsible for both paying for their education and also the costs of law enforcement when these students choose to act in such an irresponsible and unlawful manner.

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