Are the lights out and is the music over for partying students?

Police raid student parties and push them around because students have weak political power.

by John Hoff

Passions have cooled since that wild night, nearly two weeks ago, when a dozen squad cars descended on the 1600 block of fraternity row and broke up perfectly fun and traditional homecoming parties. Now it would be good to have a discussion about what went down that night, and ask why students lack political power so badly that our festive traditional gatherings are raided with brazen impunity.

That late Friday or early Saturday, from several yards away, I saw two squad cars parked in the street, and some young man had been detained. At some point, the police released him and he, possessing good sense, seemed agreeable and deferential. Two cars sped past, and at the same moment there was a sound – something between a firecracker and breaking glass. At least three cops ducked, placed hands on holsters and looked around. I ducked too. If police are ducking, you know it’s good to duck.

The police started looking at their squad’s rear windshield and that’s when I saw a jagged hole nearly as big as my hand on the lower-left side. Somebody had broken the windshield. But how? Was an object thrown from a passing car? Did somebody launch or fire something the moment the cars passed? What hit the windshield to break it like that?

The reaction of the police was to begin calling in more squads and clearing the sidewalk. A burly young officer holding an odd-looking gun (for paint pellets? gas grenades?), told me and others to clear the block. From a neighboring sidewalk, dozens of bystanders and I watched the officers clear out the private house party. I counted a dozen or more squad cars. Students took pictures with cell phones as intoxicated partiers were rousted and made to hit the street.

At one point, a young woman walked up to one of the squads and pulled back her leg as though to kick it. Her male comrade physically pulled her away and she dropped her beer, which rolled, spewing. She managed to save about a third of her drink, praise Bacchus. Another young woman shouted obscenities at the police. Yet there was wise restraint on both sides. The police did not fire gas or paintballs. No student kicked a police car. A few nights ago, a somber and formal circle of fraternity brothers spoke to me about the raid on their party. They said about a dozen police had entered bedrooms, one shouting “Frat party Ö OVER!” like a bad teen movie. The brothers made it clear to me they insist upon the term “fraternity” and not “frat” with its negative connotations.

The fraternity brothers added a layer of information and widely known rumor to my own perceptions of that night. Rumor had it, a D-cell battery was the object that broke the glass. Rumor had it, authorities had been looking for a firearm violation nearby and were already tense when the window broke. Though only rumors, this seems to explain the strong police reaction. Still, from where I was standing, it sure looked like overkill and retaliation in response to a frustrating act against property Ö like when somebody rips off your bike, but who? I address this question to Cam Gordon, who is running for City Council in Ward 2 on the Green Party ticket. I also address it to Cara J. Letofsky, running for the same seat on behalf of the DFL. “If you were elected, how would you expect police to act toward students having parties?”

There are other issues. There are parking meters around the campus that won’t take nickels and dimes. We’re just students, selling our freaking plasma to survive, and we’re getting expensive tickets for lack of proper change. Don’t tell me it’s too much trouble for somebody to go out and pick up containers of nickels, or that it’s the same in other parts of the city. Those excuses won’t wash. Gee, perhaps you’ve both become keenly aware of my stolen bike, a 21-speed Magna, red with silver trim, serial number 34003347? I want sting operations against bike thieves, like in New York and UC Berkeley. No other student should be ripped off by lock-gnawing rats. Are you hearing me? Cam? Cara? Don’t just go after the votes of older, established, real estate-owning residents; instead tell me what on earth you will do for students like those fraternity brothers? You see, I think students will vote, and student votes at the polls will tell our city government, “The party Ö is just BEGINNING!”

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]

Hoff has mailed paperwork to join the local Green Party and has been a Green Party member in the past.