Weekend MSU riots are a cautionary tale

Sometimes words aren’t enough to describe a big story. We’re used to seeing footage of police in riot gear march in far off places trying to disperse crowds.

But this weekend we saw images of a riot at Michigan State University that resulted in more than 50 arrests and the use of tear gas against college students.

The estimated crowd of 3,000 to 4,000 weren’t protesting or fighting for anything (their right to party notwithstanding). It seems that the chaotic scene stemmed from a block party called Cedar Fest that spiraled out of control. After one officer was hit by fireworks and revelers starting hurling beer bottles, police were forced to act.

Authorities say that Cedar Fest was actually banned in the 1980s after the event got too out of control. Apparently, the event was revived thanks to Facebook (what else?) and included messages that may have incited the chaos. More disturbing was that some reports say people in the crowd started shouting at the police to use tear gas.

Does any of this sound familiar?

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What happened at MSU shows just how delicate the relationship between students and authorities really is. Judging from reports, our own annual campus event, Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day, is nowhere near as troublesome as some of the events in MSU’s past.

But an event that was supposed to have been dead for 20 years resurfacing should give administrators and local governments pause when they use wildly inappropriate rhetoric to describe Unofficial. After all, we saw what real chaos looks like at MSU.

In fact, this year’s Unofficial was incredibly docile with few arrests, tickets and no major injuries. But there’s no guarantee that will be the case next year, especially as more efforts are made to kill Unofficial.

We are concerned that escalation between students and authorities may lead to incidents like the unfortunate events of this weekend, but on our own campus. Instead of engaging in the annual cat and mouse game every spring, both sides need to find ways to work together to maintain the delicate balance of fun and safety that was shown this year.

Attempts to kill Unofficial may be successful in the short term, but they will do nothing to prevent the next big act of rebellion someone on this campus comes up with.

In fact, it may just provoke them.

That would be a shame, especially for a campus that has shown it can handle a big celebration, whether on Unofficial or after an incredible upset of a conference rival such as Ohio State.