It was early Sunday morning, April 26, by the time several dozen riot police — and several hundred raucous partygoers — found their way off Dinkytown streets.
Glass shards from broken bottles and dented cars lined the 1300 block of Seventh Street Southeast, the remnants of an hours-long riot that marred a celebration that began the day before as a high-spirited block party.
But things got out of control.
Alcohol fueled tempers and a street fire, and both ultimately exploded into high-stakes chaos that would risk the future of a decades-long tradition at the University of Minnesota.
The Spring Jam Riot put Spring Jam itself on the table.
Students face possible sanctions, in court and at school. University leaders fear a reputation tarnished beyond repair. Scrutinized police say they did everything they could to diffuse the mayhem.
Still, questions linger and administrators aren’t sure if the annual end-of-the-school-year celebration should continue.
“This incident, I don’t think, represents the kind of conduct, behavior and sense of responsibility that I’ve come to appreciate from the University of Minnesota student body,” University President Bob Bruininks said . “I think this was a breakdown that we should try to learn from.”
The first-ever recorded riot on a U.S. college campus occurred at Harvard University in 1766.
Later deemed the “Great Butter Rebellion,” the uprising followed the suspension of Asa Dunbar — the grandfather of author Henry David Thoreau — for protesting rancid butter in the school’s cafeteria.
Riots have since carved a place in college culture around the country.
In the aftermath of a 2002 riot at Ohio State University, the school created a task force to prevent celebratory riots. The task force found 20 riots had occurred on U.S. college campuses between 1997 and 2002 — one of which was at the University of Minnesota — and drafted the following definition for a celebratory riot:
-Frequently occurring in relation to a sporting event.
-Generally involving the participant consumption of alcohol.
-Fire setting as common practice.
-A majority of white males as active participants.
-The eventual police intervention met with resistance and disrespect.
In his report, “An Analysis of Issues Related to Celebratory Riots at Higher Education Institutions,” Jeffery M. Van Slyke cites 10 common denominators generally found in college riots, including an “attitude of entitlement” among participants, a high-population neighborhood with “little sense of community” and a “mob mentality” that “sweeps up many who had no intention of becoming involved.”
Van Slyke’s report also suggests there are several psychological theories that could explain the “mob mentality” behind these riots.
Joshua Page , University sociology professor, said it’s common in mob situations for participants to act as a whole. When acting in a group, Page said, participants often experience feelings of invulnerability and lack of accountability.
“There’s something really enervating, if not enjoyable, about really moving as one with a group,” he said. “If you do illicit things within a group, there is the sense that you’re not accountable and you’re not going to get caught or hurt.”
In incidents when groups are acting violently, like the Dinkytown riot, Page said it’s common for participants to greet police with aggression. Page said people who do not have much experience with police are often more likely to lash out against them.
On April 13, 2003, hundreds contributed to the destruction of on- and near-campus property , with damage totaling more than $150,000.
The incident began as a celebration of the University’s Division I NCAA Men’s Hockey Championship , but quickly escalated to aggressive behavior that included tipping cars, setting fires and the destruction and looting of local businesses.
In addition to mass property destruction, administrators feared the University’s reputation had suffered irreparable damage, and clung to save the nearly severed ties between the college and surrounding communities.
Jerry Rinehart , who transitioned from assistant dean of the Carlson School of Management to vice provost for student affairs during the disciplinary process in 2003, said community members closely monitored the University’s handling of students involved in the riot.
“There was just a great deal of outrage in the community about student behavior and a real demand for justice for those students,” Rinehart said.
In the end, the University took disciplinary action against 11 students for violations of the school’s conduct code during the riot, according to University records. Two students were expelled.
City action against the students ranged from minor consumption tickets to felony second-degree arson charges, according to University records .
“It took a while to get all that straightened out because there were court cases pending,” Rinehart said. “We also had some difficulty because the conduct code wasn’t formally extended off campus.
“It really brought to our attention the need to be able to address some of the serious behaviors that students might engage in, that because of the definition of our conduct code, we couldn’t do anything about.”
In 2006, three years after the Hockey Riot, the University amended its code of conduct to extend disciplinary reach off campus.
Among these provisions is a subdivision titled, plainly, “Rioting.”
“Rioting means engaging in, or inciting others to engage in, harmful or destructive behavior in the context of an assembly of persons disturbing the peace on campus, in areas proximate to campuses, or in any location when the riot occurs in connection with, or in response to, a University-sponsored event,” the code states.
In contrast to the 2003 incident, the amended code will allow the University more disciplinary power over students involved in the Spring Jam Riot. The code carries penalties ranging from warnings to expulsion to degree revocation, based on the nature of offenses.
New information about individual conduct could come from a University-sponsored website that displays images from the riot.
School administrators are calling on students for help identifying people shown in the video as participating in the riot.
So far, Rinehart said, there have been a couple of identifications made by visitors to the site.
Still, he’s not expecting widespread feedback from students.
“I don’t think it’s going to be real effective,” he said. “But it’s an effort, and if we can even just get a few more people” it’ll be successful.
Each of the arrested students will meet with University officials to discuss their actions and potential violations of the Student Conduct Code.
Now, the conduct code office is waiting for police reports that it expects to receive soon to review the arrestees’ alleged conduct.
From there, the students will meet with conduct code coordinators to discuss the circumstances and possible resolutions. The coordinator will offer each student a sanction that they can agree to immediately.
Otherwise, the student can request a hearing, which Rinehart said can prolong the disciplinary process.
He estimated that, if each student accepted the suggested sanction, the process could be finished within two weeks of the initial meeting in the conduct code office.
But the hearing process could stretch through the summer, he said.
Bruininks said it’s too early to say how administrators will apply the conduct code in this case, the first notable broad application of the off-campus amendment since its approval.
“I think it’s very important to be fair to our students, but at the same time expect them to be accountable for their behavior,” he said. “In the deliberations, I’m sure we’ll come out with fair and just outcomes.”
Fostering accountability is important, Rinehart said.
“I’m less worried about the sanctions in some cases than having a conversation about whether some students understand the implications of their behavior,” he said.
The night of the most recent riot, Minneapolis police at the scene arrested and later filed misdemeanor charges against eight people, including five enrolled University students.
Police leveled six unlawful assembly charges, three for obstructing the legal process and two for disorderly conduct among the arrestees. Most of them face only an unlawful assembly charge, but some doubled up.
Officers have jurisdiction to file misdemeanor charges. The City Attorney’s Office then reviews the cases independently to determine whether there’s enough evidence to prosecute.
A number of the cases are already scheduled for arraignment, some as soon as May 8.
Many of the cases are still under review, Assistant City Attorney Tim Richards said. In some instances, the office is still awaiting information.
Richards wouldn’t comment on the nature of that information.
Peter Robbins is among the students facing penalties in a court of law and at the University.
Cited with unlawful assembly, the computer science junior said he headed to the riot about the time police got there because he wanted to document it.
About a half-minute after he arrived, Robbins said he was standing still and focusing his camera when an officer in riot gear shot him in the groin with a marking round. Police arrested Robbins shortly thereafter.
Robbins, who noted in an interview the day after his arrest that he was “not intoxicated at all” at the time, maintains he told an officer that he was simply there taking pictures.
“I was assaulted, in my opinion, without any cause,” he said, adding that he plans to fight the charge.
Robbins said he hasn’t heard from the University about discussing his conduct, but his arraignment is scheduled for May 8.
Sgt. Jesse Garcia, spokesman for Minneapolis police , the agency that responded to the riot, said the marking rounds are “mainly used to pick out instigators and agitators.”
Police arrived at the scene en masse and clad in riot gear shortly before 11 p.m., hours into the block party that had, by that time, turned into a large street fire surrounded by a largely alcohol-fueled crowd of several hundred.
Some of the most raucous partygoers threw glass bottles at police, who lined up several dozen strong and advanced on the crowd.
At times during the police response, they seemed to fire projectiles arbitrarily, including down alleyways. Police also used concussion grenades and chemical irritants, such as pepper spray and tear gas, to disperse the rowdy crowd.
University Police Chief Greg Hestness said his department spent $2,099 in overtime pay to staff enough officers to handle the unruly pack of people.
Despite criticism, Garcia said last week that preliminary information indicates police tactics were “necessary and appropriate.”
“The focus should be on these kids getting out of hand,” he said. “The focus is not the police. The focus is these kids and the damage.”
Jim Forrey , a recent University graduate, said he believes police overstepped their bounds.
Last week, the activist spoke at an on-campus event and spent time canvassing the 1300 block of Seventh Street Southeast — the heart of Dinkytown, where the riot took place.
Forrey went door to door on the block in an effort to link anti-police brutality activism with “the average college student” who he said doesn’t typically face intense police action like that during the riot.
The idea was to approach residents and gather their stories, to understand what happened and facilitate discussion.
“I’m not trying to promote any kind of ideology,” he said. “I just want to talk to people that were directly faced with this kind of force by the police and open up a discussion for it.”
Forrey, who lives in the Como neighborhood, hurried to the scene when he heard the situation in Dinkytown was escalating.
After he got there, he was helping a man who had been pepper sprayed by police, and an officer shot three marking rounds that struck Forrey’s buttocks.
On Thursday night when he went canvassing, five days after he was initially wounded, Forrey’s bluish-purple, yellow-flecked abrasion still ran across the right side of his buttocks.
Police spokesman Garcia said the marking rounds aren’t designed to hurt and won’t cause long-term damage.
“If you’re a weasel, they might be painful,” he said. “If you’re a piddly little guy, you’re going to feel it.”
Forrey stands 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds.
“I’m not the biggest guy in the world,” he said. “But it hit me in the fleshiest part of my body and it hurt real f---ing bad.”
Based on his experience, Forrey said he knows there are other people caught in the melee who unjustly received the same kind of treatment.
Armed with fliers featuring his contact information, a clipboard with blank pages ready to be filled with people’s stories and a friend who believes in the cause, Forrey went knocking.
Most houses on the block had lights on. Some residents didn’t answer. Some tenants shooed Forrey and his partner away. Others said they were uncomfortable talking to Forrey because they feared University and police punishment.
But some talked — and more still took the flyers. Forrey is hopeful that some of them will contact him with more stories, allowing him to open a dialogue about what could happen next.
“I’m here as a resource, not to tell them what to think,” he said. “I don’t have to tell them what to think. They saw what I saw.”
In the sobering week that followed the Spring Jam Riot, administrators, students and community members all demanded the answer to a single question: Who’s to blame?
Among the contributing factors that surfaced included a Minnesota Daily headline, the last-minute cancellation of a student-sanctioned performer, the unexpected nice weather and a slow police response. Others thought those involved shouldered all of the responsibility.
“I don’t know,” Bruininks said when asked if this or future incidents could be prevented. “I think that’s a great, great question that we should ask ourselves, and we should not be afraid to pursue the answers.”
The Minnesota Daily
Two days before the Spring Jam Riot, The Minnesota Daily’s most prominent headline read, “No party patrol for Spring Jam.”
Rinehart said many students clipped the headline out of the newspaper to hang it up in their dorms, celebrating the perceived lack of authority for the upcoming weekend.
“Many, many people think that headline played a major role,” Rinehart said. “I think the headline was a real mistake.”
Hestness echoed the sentiment, calling it “very poor judgment” on part of the Daily.
Rinehart added that he doesn’t blame the headline, “because it shouldn’t be the presence or absence of law enforcement that determines how people behave.”
Talib Kweli cancels
Hip-hop artist Talib Kweli was scheduled to headline the Spring Jam concert that Saturday, but flight delays in Chicago kept him from performing on campus.
Would-be concert-goers filed back into Dinkytown when word of the cancellation spread, many stopping on the block that would later play host to the riot.
Police mishandle the situation
Psychology senior Ashley Schultz lives on the block, but was at a concert most of the evening of the riot.
Around 5 p.m., before she went out, Schultz noticed the party on her block was escalating.
“The cops probably should’ve done something at that point to disperse people,” she said.
She returned home to find a fire blazing in the street and riot police lined up in front of her house. Later, partygoers she didn’t know crammed into Schultz’s entryway, seeking refuge from police action outside.
Faulting young people who wanted to have a good time is misplacing the blame, Schultz said.
“I was drinking,” she said. “But there’s no way I would ever say it was a good idea to throw a bottle.”
Young people get out of hand
Police and University administrators have each addressed the riot as a case of young people behaving badly.
“What concerns me most is that there’s some students who think this was totally OK, that it was just a party,” Rinehart said.
Both Bruininks and Rinehart expressed relief that no one was seriously injured in the melee, but said students need to mull over their role in what happened.
“Perhaps students reflecting on this, if they can get around blaming the police, can get around being angry at the president for being angry, and recognize, ‘Is this how your mom and dad raised you?’” Rinehart said. “That’s the kind of maturity that takes some time to develop and sometimes a major bad event like this can have some growth potential for students.”
Dinkytown Rentals originally planned to take both units of a duplex on the 1300 block of Seventh Street Southeast to housing court — an effort to evict the tenants who, during the course of the party-turned-riot, allegedly violated terms of their lease, including serving alcohol to minors and receiving several noise complaints.
The two sides ultimately negotiated a settlement out of court that allows the tenants to stay in the properties.
“It just was a bad situation and I think it’s good to get it settled," landlord Tim Harmsen said. "Some sort of court case wasn’t really going to be in anyone’s interest or really prove anything.”
Just more than a week after the riot, administrators struggle with the difficult decision of whether or not to continue Spring Jam, a tradition that began in the 1940 s.
Bruininks said he hopes to find a way to keep Spring Jam from being discontinued.
“I’m only speaking for myself, but I believe it would be a shame to cancel Spring Jam,” Bruninks said. “I think the students, faculty and staff who live through Minnesota winters have every right and reason to want to celebrate the onset of spring. So I think Spring Jam is a good idea.”
However, he and Rinehart agree there is a lot of work to do.
“We have to set conditions in which people are inclined to make better decisions about their behavior and recognize their impact. We clearly have a long way to go on that,” Rinehart said. “We must find a way to do that. There’s not a silver bullet here, but it’s going to take real cooperation.”
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