APD, State PD and UMPD gather at west entrance to Townhouse Apartments
The war on off campus student rowdyism took a serious turn during 2013 and that turning point was the Blarney Blowout, Amherst's version of the Mardi Gras or Florida's Spring Break -- only seasoned with a tad more violence.
As usual good weather was a contributing factor but by far, marketing was the #1 reason for the out-of-control debauchery.
Downtown bars -- most notably McMurphy's and Stackers -- used social media to hype the "Blarney Blowout" promotion, a bait and switch name change from "Kegs & Eggs" which had drawn sharp criticism over the previous ten years for promoting bad behavior i.e. drinking in the morning.
In 2012 the Blarney Blowout had contributed to awful visuals in the downtown and an unusual strain on public safety, including an incident where a drunken college aged male hit on an 11-year-old girl. The Select Board used their bully pulpit to chastise the pernicious promotion, but as the town's Liquor Commissioners did nothing to penalize the offenders.
So it should not have been too hard to figure out , even if you don't have sitemeters, that the Blarney Blowout, March 9, 2013 was going to be bad day for civility. Really bad.
The promotion started at 11:00 AM (my first published report was 11:07 AM) and all eyes were focused on the downtown. Meanwhile crowds, mostly dressed in green, were gathering at Townhouse Apartments in North Amherst where violence had erupted the year before.
Entire quad taken up by revelers
The crowd grew to over 2,000 taking up the entire quad and beer cans (some of them full) and snowballs started to fly. A young woman in the center of the mob passes out from too much alcohol (ETOH) and AFD is called.
When police and EMTs try to get to the young lady lost in the crowd the mob became uncooperative. Objects now started flying in their direction. Public Safety personnel retreated after pulling the young woman from the crowd.
ETOH female (age 17) loaded into the ambulance under police escort
Over the next few hours, under the influence of a lot more beer, the crowd would only get surlier. Vandalism starts to take place. APD had put out an SOS after the incident with the ETOH female, with many State Police and UMPD officers responding to the call -- all of them dressed in riot gear.
A little after 5:00 PM they uniformly moved in, quickly dispersing the huge crowd while making six arrests.
Moments after police dispersed the unruly crowd
At the following Select Board meeting irate members -- particularly Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe -- blamed UMass for not putting out sternly worded emails to students and parents before the weekend. UMass -- via a Letter to the Editor from PR guru John Kennedy -- blamed the town for allowing the promotion.
Of course the Select Board, unlike previous years, had not given the bars permission to open early that day and since advertising via social media is protected by the First Amendment there is little they could have done prevent the promotion.
But the acrimony led to UMass announcing it would donate $40,000 per semester so AFD could run two extra ambulances on weekends; and more importantly, the disturbing incident convinced the two major powers that something structural needed to be done.
Chancellor Subbaswamy addresses Amherst Town Meeting 5/15/13
For the first time in history a UMass Chancellor came to spring Town Meeting to champion town/gown relations. The $30,000 warrant article (matched by $30,000 from UMass) to hire a consultant passed, leading to the formation of the Town Gown Steering Committee, a heavy hitter group of top UMass and Town officials that mirrored the ultra successful Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods Working Group.
The SHNWG formulated a Rental Registration and Permit Bylaw, the most important legislation passed by Town Meeting in a generation, and a direct outgrowth of last year's "Story of the Year".
The Town Gown Steering Committee finished up a Request For Proposals a few weeks ago and will continue to meet after the consultant issues a report.
After all, implementation is the key.