Police response demands careful examination

Despite all the arguments being thrown around by both sides, it is hard to understand why it takes four or five armor-clad police officers armed with pepper spray and riot sticks to subdue one University student. And it is harder still to understand why, when that student is on the ground and blind, officers must beat and kick him or her.

Did University students take the celebration too far? Yes. Did they willfully break windows, lampposts and street signs? Beyond a shadow of doubt. Were they so out of control that they endangered each other and posed a serious threat of bodily harm to fellow students? We will never know, because some Minneapolis police officers beat them to the punch.

Accounts differ over whether students first threw bottles and snowballs before police began using pepper spray, or whether the melee would have started at all if the police hadn’t shown up. Regardless, the only injury suffered by police was one officer who had a bruised shoulder, according to a police account in the Star Tribune. If this is the extent of the department’s injuries, they more than reciprocated, even if only Minnesota Daily reporters and photographers are taken into account. All three photographers at the riot were deluged by pepper spray and beaten to the ground – despite the fact that all were displaying their press credentials and one even held his up, shouting “press!” as the officers stormed after him. Incidentally, that particular photographer was ignored by police until he began photographing officers attacking a man who had already been knocked to the ground. Also, both reporters at the scene were blinded by pepper spray, one indirectly and the other purposefully after she rushed to the aid of a photographer who had been knocked down by police.

Unfortunately, Daily staff were not the only people attacked by police. At least one amateur video shows police roughing up a rioter, and eyewitness accounts by those in attendance point to many more. This is not to say the police maliciously scythed through the crowd thumping everything in sight, but it does seem to indicate a serious problem: One fool who throws a bottle from within a crowd of 1,000 effectively indicts the entire crowd.

This simply is not right. To be a police officer is a noble thing. The profession exists as a service to the community and is one people often utilize only when the situation becomes dangerous. Its motto – “to serve and protect” – describes a career requiring sacrifice and selflessness. But that dignity is tarnished when overzealous and indiscriminate actions by some officers wound those who have committed no crime.

Moreover, a sober assessment of police tactics reveals no discernable, logical plan of action. Why, for instance, would the police cordon off 15th Street and Fourth Avenue, effectively blocking the route home for anyone living in Dinkytown? This runs contrary to their stated purpose of dispersing the crowd.

This is not an indictment of the entire police force. To do so would make one no better than those who beat bystanders. But this is a call for some change, responsibility and the straightening of the thin blue line. Without restraint and thought, the effort to restore order is not just wasted, it is dangerously counterproductive.

And several University students have the scars to prove it.