Another Lesson in Rioting 101

Posted: Apr 03, 2002 12:00 AM
They did it again. In their alcohol-soaked delirium, students at the University of Maryland managed twice this week to make national fools of themselves and of the grown-ups who supposedly supervise their campus. These bright young scholars trashed the school grounds and surrounding College Park neighborhood after their Maryland Terrapins advanced to the Final Four over the weekend -- and again after the team won the NCAA college basketball tournament Monday night. "(Expletive) the police!" replaced "Go Terps!" as the rallying cry of the evening. Drunken thugs "celebrated" the Terps' victories by assaulting bystanders, looting stores, smashing windows, throwing bottles, uprooting benches and street signs, and vandalizing police cruisers. About 10 future members of our workforce broke into a police car and stole flares that they later lighted and tossed at officers. Others snatched caution tape from cop cars and littered it on streets and lawns. Still others spat on police officers trying to keep the peace. So much for that post-Sept. 11 spirit of respect for our men and women in uniform. The manager of the College Park Bicycle Shop got hit in the face trying to protect his store; one of his co-workers told me rioters broke eight of the shop's windows and stole an estimated 30 bikes. At the Smoothie King ice-cream parlor, friends and employees privately patrolled the perimeter -- even tackling a man who tried to ram a police barricade through the shop's window. One Terp-worshiping twerp expressed his team spirit by running from car to car, smashing automobile headlights with a wooden board. No doubt a mechanical engineering major. Meanwhile, female undergrads gathered in crowds atop their boyfriends' shoulders and flashed their breasts. Wouldn't Elizabeth Cady Stanton just be so proud? ("Like, Elizabeth
who?" I can imagine one of these young ladies pausing to ask in between beer bong hits and bonfire-settings before passing out on the sidewalk.) This wasn't unexpected. Last year, after the Terps lost to Duke in the Final Four, Maryland students broke into several private homes, dragged furniture into the street for bonfires, and disrupted cable service when one of the fires burned through a fiber-optic line owned by Comcast and caused $500,000 in damage. But why is it, the head-scratchers and tweed-wearers wonder, that college students engage in such destructive and lewd behavior when their school's athletic team wins ? They do it because they can. Simpering campus officials wouldn't even call the animalistic behavior of their students what it was. Instead of rioting, they retreated to old hippy-dippy euphemisms. "We will not tolerate civil unrest," said Maj. Cathy Atwell of the University of Maryland Police. The Associated Press used the word "rowdy" to describe lawless acts that included rampant property destruction and assaults on police officers. On Monday night, after amassing large patrols on horse and helicopter and after issuing stern warnings that arson would not be tolerated, law enforcement authorities stood by and allowed fires set along the campus fraternity row to burn until 2 a.m. "It seems to be a fad now. This burning stuff -- I don't understand it," bookstore owner Bernie Brew told me. Maryland's Vice President for Student Affairs Linda Clement, the school's apparent lead Pollyanna cheerleader, didn't seem to mind. She told the campus newspaper she was pleased with the post-game conduct by both the police and students: "Students were quite orderly when they left campus." Maj. Jeff Cox, head of the Prince George's County police department's patrol unit, begged to differ: "I wish I knew why we keep having this problem." Simple: No consequences, no control. No limits, no respect. This story of Terps, twerps and perps is repeated at campuses across the country, where adult administrators pay lip service to discipline but continue to tolerate high levels of insolence, savagery, debauchery and criminal behavior by college students who have never learned to accept the word "No." "It's tradition," shrugged University of Maryland public relations major Charmaine Young, 21, of Pittsburgh, resigning herself to the inevitability of bad behavior. Sounds like Ms. Young has a bright future. There's a big demand for PR apologists at riot-prone NCAA schools these days.