UMass/Amherst Lives Up to its Reputation as 'Zoo Mass'

By Izzy Lyman
May 6, 2003

An end-of-the semester celebration at UMass/Amherst morphed into a violent mob scene over the weekend.

The Chief of the Amherst Police Department said yesterday that a pre-graduation party, hosted near the University of Massachusetts and which attracted over 1,500 students, became a "riotous situation."

"What began as a series of parties developed into a full-fledged riot," said Scherpa.

Students hurled broken pieces of rock and beer bottles at passing cars and at police officers who donned riot gear.

Captain Mike Kent, a 22-year veteran of the Amherst police department, agreed. Kent described the melee as "the worst disturbance I have ever seen and the most violent."

The so-called Hobart Hoedown, held on Hobart Lane, began to spin wildly out-of-control late Saturday night when students hurled broken pieces of rock and beer bottles at passing cars and at police officers who donned riot gear.

The Amherst Fire Department had to extinguish several fires, including one which burned down a Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus stop. Forty-five arrests were made, and there were 15 reported injuries among the Amherst cops. Chief Scherpa calculated the cost of police overtime at $20,000. As of Sunday evening, glass fragments still covered the long entryway to the Puffton Village apartment complex (where the block party had also taken place) and the smell of smoke lingered in the air. Also advertising the results of the debauchery was a smashed-up police cruiser which remained parked in front of the Amherst police station.

Capt. Mike Kent described the melee as "the worst disturbance I have ever seen and the most violent."

Police Praised by Residents

During the press conference, one student complained that the police - who used pepper spray and shot two rounds from a "spongebob gun" to break-up the crowd - had made the situation worse. But a homeowner defended the actions of the law enforcement officials.

"I had people on my lawn, I was cursed at and I was at risk of being hurt. I think they [the police officers] were wonderful," said Marcia Howard of Hobart Lane.

Chief Scherpa also defended his officers. "I'm really proud of the men and women that showed remarkable restraint." He made it clear, however, that he was not against campus partying.

"It's not that we're trying to stop parties, but we're trying to have responsible parties," he said.

Added Scherpa, "When they get out of control, a lot of times, people giving the party call us, because it gets out-of-control, not of their choosing."

The Hoedown was a heated topic of discussion at the umassdrunks.org web site. The site famously posts "drunken photos" of what appear to be inebriated undergraduates and features message boards which allow participants to chat about local bars and parties.

UMass Chancellor John V. Lombardi issued a statement harshly criticizing the actions of the students.

"The university is appalled to learn that our community suffered another example of disgraceful behavior in the area of Hobart Lane in North Amherst involving, among others, a large number of University students," said Lombardi. "We will take prompt and appropriate action regarding any members of our community found to have engaged in behavior contrary to the university's code of student conduct."

One property manager told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that there was a solution to the problem of widespread under-age drinking in Amherst.

"Raise the drinking age to 25," said Robert Baker of the Crestview Apartments.

Given this weekend's meltdown, some, even in this liberal community, will think it's an idea whose time has come.



 




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