In the wake of two student melees that swept through Dinkytown last week, University of Minnesota student body President Mike Schmit hopes authorities will rethink how they prepare for such threats.
In the days leading up to Saturday night’s showdown between students and police, universitywide e-mails warned of a “zero tolerance” policy and media outlets beat the drum about police preparations.
It created “the almost implied expectation that there was going to be a riot,” said Schmit.
Now that the tear gas has cleared from Dinkytown streets, Schmit and others have been left to wonder if things could have gone differently. In the two nights of student gatherings that erupted as the U hockey team played in the Frozen Four national championship, 29 people were arrested, 16 of them students, by a crew of 300 Minneapolis police officers outfitted with paintball guns, tear gas, riot shields and helmets, batons, and a State Patrol helicopter.
It seems unlikely that this will be the last time police are called out to Dinkytown streets. A new era of “sports riots” may be encouraging some of the behavior, while social media makes it easy for people to assemble quickly. And the university is left sporting a public relations black eye that Schmit and others were eager to repair.
“I think for the most part people were there because that’s where the excitement was,” said Schmit. “Quite frankly, it was just the cool place to be taking selfies and tweeting from.”
Many of those arrested were cited for unlawful assembly or disorderly conduct, but a Richfield man who was not listed as a student on the university’s website faces a felony charge of rioting with a dangerous weapon and an assault charge for throwing bottles and a chunk of concrete at police officers on Saturday night after the Gophers lost the title game.
There were questions as well for the police response, which some saw as heavy-handed. Schmit said he saw mug shots of some of the students who were arrested and wondered how their faces got bloody, but generally supported the police department’s work over the weekend.
A university spokesman said the university will continue to work on its strategy for preventing sports mobs like those that took over Dinkytown over the weekend, but had nothing specific to say about the tactics used.
“We’re not in a position to question the tactics that Minneapolis police undertook on Saturday night,” said University of Minnesota spokesman Steve Henneberry.
Chief Janeé Harteau was out of town Tuesday. Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said that if anyone feels they were mistreated they should file a complaint with the department’s Internal Affairs unit.
The MPD’s manual spells out the use of force, saying it’s a decision based on the severity of the crime, whether the suspect poses a threat to the safety of officers or others, or whether he is actively resisting arrest.
Former Police Chief Tim Dolan said arrests in those situations would typically involve two or three officers taking people away without knocking them down. If the person being arrested tried to pull away, that’s when they would be pushed to the ground, he added.
“Unless you have a really good reason to believe this guy’s going to be combative, you’re going to try to just have two officers, three officers, they’ll go in and just tell him, ‘Sir, you’re under arrest,’ ” said Dolan.
“If it’s somebody that you’re able to walk up to, you should be able to just grab them,” he said.