Despite bystanders’ attempts to intervene, rioters flip, burn cars

Patricia Drey

Soon after firefighters extinguished two flaming cars piled on top of each other in the parking lot along 15th Avenue and 4th Avenue Southeast, a group began planning to flip another car near the back of the parking lot.

“Help me flip this over,” yelled a man holding an 18-pack of Miller Lite. After two tries, a group of approximately 12 people had flipped over another car.

“This is something that everyone should experience that comes around once in a lifetime. It’s absolutely beautiful,” said another man after he finished helping flip the car.

Once the car was on its roof, rioters stood on top of it and cheered until people started trying to light the car on fire. A crowd of more than 1,000 people backed up and watched as a fourth car was torched.

The crowd that flipped the second car did not go unchallenged. First-year student Chris Miller said some fights broke out as people tried to stop the crowd from tipping the second car.

“I saw a kid who was pretty bloodied,” Miller said. “I think he was just kind of trying to pull one of the kids off the car, and the kid decked him.”

Chris Pesklo, a former University student who now lives in Dinkytown, said he tried to prevent rioters from jumping on cars in the parking lot and vandalizing cars driving south on 15th Avenue.

Pesklo, 43, said his current occupation as a substitute teacher helped him intimidate people enough that rioters usually listened to him.

Pesklo said his attempts to stop rioters from flipping over the second car were unsuccessful. When he ran into the group telling them to “knock it off,” one man attacked him so violently that other crowd members had to pull the man off.

“After they broke my glasses and stole my hat, I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ ” Pesklo said. “I had no incentive anymore. They were going to destroy these things, and it didn’t matter if I tried to stop them.”

No police were in the parking lot at the time.

Sports sociologist Merrill Melnick at the State University of New York-Brockport said sometimes an overdone or “excessively authoritarian” police presence could provoke rioters.

“If there are helicopters with spotlights and the police are all dressed up like Darth Vader, that could be provocative,” he said.

Melnick said celebratory riots are caused by a combination of group dynamics that make people less inhibited, increased testosterone levels in males due to a vicarious victory, and alcohol. These three forces combine to make people do things they probably would not do under other conditions.

Patricia Drey covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]