It’s Hallowe’en, but Spring is Just Around the Corner

October 31, 2013: Today the Daily Hampshire Gazette ran my letter to the editor on the subject of the Blarney Blowout.  I wrote it a couple of weeks ago in response to an editorial that unfairly criticized the Amherst Police Department, but in my fervor I exceeded the word limit. Here is the full, unexpurgated version.

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 I suppose some credit is due to whoever thought of using the pathetic bar-crawl/riot known as the Blarney Blowout and Ed Davis’s all-have-sinned report as a hook for discussing the First Amendment. (Editorial: ‘Find right tone, tactics for policing in our times,’ Monday, October 13). But that is where the credit runs out.

After reading the editorial, a reasonable reader could be forgiven for thinking that the focus of Davis’s report was the police rather than, say, the failure of the University and Town to respond intelligently to the sudden, but not unanticipated, arrival of 7,000 guests on campus, some of whom had cunningly stashed their booze in back-packs rather than brown paper bags in the knowledge that RAs will search the latter but not the former. RAs heard “glass bottles clanging together inside back-packs,” but thought they were not allowed to search them, the report explains. Nor would readers suspect that the report describes how some undergraduates chose to respond to the University’s request for appropriate behavior: it was “with defiance,” Davis notes.

Instead, readers would conclude that the Amherst police had used “heavy-handed tactics” of the sort that Eric Holder decried in his speech to mayors and police chiefs. They did not.

You are correct that “while no one died at the pre-St. Patrick’s Day party [sic] in Amherst, the potential for serious injury was there.”   If we want to know why serious injury was possible that day, we can look to the rioters. For the fact that it was potential not actual, we can — and should — thank the police. Some people were injured, in fact. They were police officers. Other people, residents going about their lawful business, faced a real threat of physical injury as well, such as the woman who was attacked while driving and the other woman who was accosted while jogging.

If the police had not dispersed the crowd, we could well have had a repeat of the sort of incidents that have characterized previous Blarney Blowouts, e.g. drunks propositioning children. Instead, a small group of officers without body armor stopped a drunken mob from hurting people. That’s the sort of policing Ed Davis and the Gazette should be commending not condemning.

You refer to the practice of Occupy protestors reading the First Amendment aloud to the police as an “inspired idea.” Here is another constitutional provision worthy of public recitation. It comes from Article 7 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and next March (assuming the Town and University ignore the recommendation on page 50 of his report that they put a stop to the Blarney Blowout) perhaps ex-Commissioner Davis could swing by the festivities and declaim it to anyone sober enough to listen: “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people.”

Your editorial concludes with the announcement that “the people are not the enemy.” Indeed we are not, but the word “we” includes the public employees who work for our protection and safety while we pursue prosperity and happiness. I look forward to the editorial that examines what steps, if any, the Town and University have taken toward Davis’s unequivocal recommendation that they end the Blarney Blowout.

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Could our Town officials really end the Blarney Blowout? They could certainly try, and they already have one of the tools fit for that purpose.

Last year, and again this year, I drew the Select Board’s attention to the power that the Massachusetts Legislature has given towns to prevent alcohol-fueled violence.  In cases of “riot or great public excitement” a select board has the statutory authority to order the holders of liquor licenses not to sell, give away, or deliver alcoholic beverages for up to three days (M.G.L. c. 138, §8).  I am no prohibitionist, but given the failure of current policies to prevent annual disorder I believe that a one-day booze ban is worth a try.  A joint approach would be ideal, with neighboring towns enacting a simultaneous ban, but we should be prepared to go it alone.  Closing our downtown bars that day would remove the attraction that encourages already intoxicated youngsters to wander through town en masse, blocking the roads and intimidating drivers and pedestrians alike.

To that end, I have drafted this advisory ballot question for next year’s town-wide elections, which will occur soon after the 2015 Blarney Blowout:

“Shall the Select Board be instructed to (1) ban the sale of alcohol in Amherst on Saturday, March 12 (the Saturday preceding St. Patrick’s Day) 2016; and (2) request that neighboring communities impose a simultaneous ban?”

If you feel as I do, that this particular tradition needs to end, please consider signing the petition. If you would like to add your name, just email me (peter@petervickery.com) and let me know when I could stop by with the petition.

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