What those riots were really about

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing and head-shaking over the two riots last week. “Oh, I’m just so ashamed of my fellow University students! How could they stoop to such lows? This is just a sign of the privilege this generation takes for granted!”

Cut the crap. The overdramatic reaction to these incidents has vilified the students and blown out of proportion what were not even true riots. But something really needs to be said that has not been yet said about the “riots.” They had almost nothing to do with those hockey games.

Maybe a few fans’ blood was honestly boiling Thursday and Saturday in a way that could find no expression other than through destruction. But the reason the riots happened was that the University basically gave us permission to riot.

Someone who I think should bear a lot of blame for the riots is President Eric Kaler. Before the riots, he sent out an email waving tired old phrases like “zero tolerance,” but the real takeaway from those emails was this: University police, Minneapolis police and other law enforcement from across the metro area will be present and prepared to keep the peace and to arrest suspects. In other words: “Hey kids, cause some ruckus Saturday night, and we’ll provide free entertainment!”

His email, combined with the massive police presence, hyped up the riots to the point of inevitability. The riots, then, were based around students testing the boundaries of the “disruptive conduct” of the Student Conduct Code. What will the police do if we do this? How far can we push this without getting arrested?

This may sound immature and foolish to many, and to be fair, many rioters were drunk. But there’s more going on in why the riot happened than people are willing to admit. First, the dirty secret of all violence and rebellion is that it’s fun. For a few hours, we had no rules and could do whatever the hell we wanted. But as college students, having a riot has a fair degree of romanticism to it. Our generation was raised by the Vietnam generation — we’ve grown up seeing idolized images of noble students being victimized by cops. A lot of college students fantasize about getting their skulls beaten in because they stood up to tyrannical police. Which leads me to another point: People would not have been as excited to riot if there had not been armored vehicles, police tanks, cops with riot gear, a SWAT team, a bike cop unit, mounted cavalry and helicopters, all for maybe a couple hundred unarmed students. Such an obscene display of power is just begging for a spectacle. It only fueled the semi-noble sense of “us versus the police state.”

No, we weren’t rioting for a noble cause. We were drunken kids who used a hockey game as an excuse to disturb the peace. We didn’t riot over student debt or any number of real problems with this country. What good would that do? If the police demonstrated nothing else, it was that if we ever cause a real riot, we wouldn’t stand a fraction of a chance.

We knew that Saturday was an opportunity to break rules and vent anger over those real problems without major, violent consequences. Despite Thursday and Saturday’s evidence to the contrary, we are not stupid. We took a good look at the situation surrounding those two games and concluded: “Well, if the riots will happen anyway, we may as well embrace it.”