Mayor, JMU President comment on Village Lane riot

Alex Sirney -- April 11th, 2010

Mayor Kai Degner and JMU President Linwood Rose have provided initial responses to Saturday’s riot in Village Lane in which police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse large crowds.

In an email message sent Sunday afternoon from the JMU Police & Public Safety in response to the confrontation between block-party goers at “Springfest” and the Harrisonburg Police Department, Rose said:

Dear Students:

Let me first acknowledge that many of you did not attend springfest on Saturday. To those of you who were involved, your collective behavior was an embarrassment to your university and a discredit to our reputation. No one is opposed to some fun on a beautiful spring weekend, but public drunkenness, destruction of property, and threats to personal safety are unacceptable outcomes. Yesterday’s events reflect poorly on your character and were demonstrable evidence of less than sound judgment.

As a university community, we care about our neighbors. Unfortunately, the events of this weekend do not demonstrate that concern.

To mitigate the negative consequences of these types of situations in the future, we will be conferring with students, property owners, law enforcement, including the Virginia State Police, government officials and others.

Linwood H. Rose
President

In an email message sent Sunday morning to hburgnews, Degner said:

The incident yesterday at the Springfest between partygoers and police is unfortunate and disappointing. There is simply no doubt that enough of this crowd did, indeed, get out of hand and create an unsafe situation – indeed injuries, property damage, and dumpster fires – even before police arrived. Left alone, this behavior could have easily continued and escalated. I commend officers for exercising their responsibility to disperse the crowd to restore a safe environment. That said, the videos of multiple tear gas canisters landing amongst the students after they already began fleeing the scene raise concern.

Preventable measures must be taken to keep events, especially planned and advertised open and unmonitored drinking parties, to grow to such a large crowd in a small residential area. This is the second time in a decade this has occurred. With foresight and planning, it should be the last.

I’m collecting all the information I can, and I have asked for a report at Tuesday evening’s council meeting so that we can understand the facts and begin exploring where to improve our policies. As this event is reviewed, I call on all community leaders, including student leaders, to be responsible for their constructive participation in the discussion about how to move forward.


Mayor Kai Degner
City of Harrisonburg, Virginia

We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

[UPDATE: Added Linwood Rose’s comments.]

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65 Responses to “Mayor, JMU President comment on Village Lane riot”

  1. David says:

    The Harrisonburg City Council meets at 7:00 PM every second and fourth Tuesday of the month in Council Chambers next to Community Development (409 S. Main Street). Meetings are open to the public.

    Everyone that wants to live in a community that doesn’t invite riots, and doesn’t think riots are cool, I highly encourage you to come out to the next meeting, THIS TUESDAY, APRIL 13TH, and make sure our voices are heard. Please spread the word.

  2. Jamie Smith says:

    Please close this thread. The nut jobs have begun to take over!

  3. No, this is Hburgnews, that includes the alienated young screw-ups that populate the university community fringe. Let ’em vent. They’re ours too. It was a rough weekend for the kids.

  4. Will Koons says:

    @Andy:

    Very well said Andy. Harrisonburg and JMU are inextricably linked. Both are equal partners in this community and mutually benefit each other. Splitting our community along these lines merely adds to the shame and embarrassment. Instead of creating this dichotomous rift as a means of shifting blame, we should be engaging in constructive dialog as partners in this community to figure out how to prevent such regrettable situations and sustain this mutually beneficial relationship.

    In situations of this magnitude there is rarely a clear cut right or wrong. This case is no exception. Clearly a number of students did not act in accordance with the values espoused by the university and this city and should take personal responsibility for their actions. However, there was a serious lack of foresight by the city and the university that allowed the situation to reach the critical mass necessary for this level of civil disturbance. Each should take responsibility for their portion and move on to a more constructive debate.

    I would encourage members of groups who are committed to working together to attend the City Council meeting tonight.

  5. I wasn’t there. I haven’t spoken to anyone who was there. I haven’t read much about it. Nevertheless, I can tell you that here’s what probably happened:
    There was a bad element in the crowd. They were unreasonable people even under the best of conditions, and either looking for trouble or close to it. And they were drunk. There may not have been many of them. Some were JMU students, some weren’t. There were others in the crowd who would have been reasonable people had they not been drunk; but they were drunk. Some were JMU students, some weren’t. There were more of these people than there were of the first type. Things got a little out of control, and the police showed up. Some of the police who showed up were reasonable, and some weren’t–those latter are also a bad element. Others of the police who showed up would have been reasonable folk if they hadn’t faced drunken students doing stupid things; but that, of course, is what they were facing, and so they got angry and perhaps even scared. Some students who would have acted reasonably under other conditions now found themselves facing the police, some of whom were unreasonable, and so these people in the crowd became angry and/or scared. At this point, everything needed for a very bad day was present, even though most of the people involved were probably fairly reasonable under better conditions. In fact, a very bad day was almost inevitable at that point.

  6. “a lot of the partiers were hanging out on private property”

    Another limousine socialist arguing in defense of private property…beautiful!

  7. Jessica says:

    So there were issues with the ambulances and law enforcement not being able to get through the masses to help those in need. Hmm…with an annual event like this, which was widely publicized on Facebook, which involves young adults drinking from the morning til night, is it more reasonable and hey, proactive to have at least one ambulance stationed and officers patrolling from the morning on, to (1) provide the proper help to those in need and (2) keep the crowd under control – if the usual attendance is one or two thousand, HOW can law enforcement allow EIGHT THOUSAND people to converge? Was there not any thought process like “Oh, there’s about three or four thousand people here, it’s time to contain it and keep others from arriving so we can keep it under control.” One might call that foresight intelligent.

  8. Brad says:

    After seeing the mayor’s response at city council, I think I jumped to conclusions when I criticized his statements earlier in this discussion. I appreciated his strong leadership at the meeting.

  9. Alison says:

    Next Jessica will be telling us the city should have paid for cabs to escort everyone out of there.

  10. Brooke says:

    No, Jessica. That’s no proactive, that’s just silly.

    Ambulances can’t just park at an event in case someone gets hurt. They have to be ready to go wherever they are *currently* needed – not just park in one place all day in case someone at that venue needs them. Besides, in your scenario, what happens when they leave with one person and then can’t get back in for all the same reasons they couldn’t get in Saturday?

    The answer was not for the city to have an ambulance dedicated and stationed at the party. The answer was for people to actually move to let them in when they had to get in. The fault is not with the city, it’s with the party-goers themselves. Don’t do stupid things that cause yourself, or someone else to get hurt (fighting, stupid stunts, drinking till you puke and/or collapse), and if someone DOES get hurt, be courteous and clear a path for the medical personnel to get in.

    Stop blame shifting and start requiring people to behave like the adults they’re supposed to be, and have a little personal responsibility for their actions and decisions.

    • Jeremy Aldrich says:

      Ambulances often park at large events where someone might get hurt…i.e. the Demolition Derby at the R’ham County Fair. I am not BLAMING the city for the actions of the partygoers – from the videos and photos I have seen they were a big drunken mess. But the city announced in advance it would have a stepped up presence at the party, and that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Could better planning have prevented partygoer stupidity from turning into injuries, property damage, and the perceived need to teargas a large crowd of people?

      I’m also curious about the public drinking – according to the pre-party WHSV article, ABC was going to have some folks at the event too. Did they? Why are there photos of beer trucks unloading mass quantities of alcohol at the event – who were they going to and how was the distribution of alcohol being managed?

      • Deb SF says:

        A number of my students reported seeing undercover ABC officers at the event. Grain of salt, etc.

  11. Brooke says:

    Is it possible that the event planners pay for those ambulances to be there? It’s not free to have EMTs just sitting around at one place all day.

  12. Penny says:

    The city and JMU should be held responsible that an event like this was allowed to occur. The students drunken behaviour should embarrass the university. We have men and women in Iraq, in harms way, so that the citizens of the USA can live in a peaceful, safe environment. The students rightous behavior put the police in a horrible position, embarrassed JMU and the city. Glass bottle being thrown in a crowd is unacceptable. Could you imagine being at a staduim watching a ball game and being pelted by glass bottles. Pretty scary. American University students need to grow up!

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