Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles are, by definition, animals. This is not subject to dispute, as I am a New York Giants fan and that’s that.
Recognizing this sad fact, however, does not explain an editorial in the Penn State Daily Collegian.
The Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl Sunday night, and their fans at Penn State wanted to celebrate.
So naturally, running on alcohol and jubilee, they took to the streets. This hardly would’ve been a problem had they simply just sang the fight song on the sidewalks. But based on other State College riots in recent years, it was safe to assume these celebrations quickly would turn sour.
Students at Penn State behaving badly? Is this even possible? Well, sure, but the leap from possible to “safe to assume” is a long one. It would suggest that there should be some anticipation of problems, perhaps even riots because these are college student Eagles fans and one can’t expect too much of them.
The police departments knew this, and as soon as the students gathered in the middle of the street in Beaver Canyon and stopped traffic, the cops started breaking it up.
They did their jobs appropriately and accordingly, based on how destructive the situation could’ve been. Damages were minimal and no arrests were made.
Breaking it up doesn’t sound particularly bad, given that students had stopped traffic, but they left out the part about how the cops accomplished this task.
However, the police received mixed reviews for the way they put down a riot that could’ve been much worse. Students claimed the police whipped out the pepper spray too soon.
Their eyes burned and their skin was irritated, so it’s not surprising they were angry. Parents caught wind of this and responded as expected: They stood up for their sons and daughters and complained about the quick pepper-spraying trigger.
To “put down a riot that could’ve been,” they pepper-sprayed students? To be clear, when the editorial refers to a riot that could have been, they are saying a riot that did not happen. It might have. It could have. It could even be a likelihood. Except it didn’t happen. Yet the police stopped it from happening by commencing the use of force continuum of OC spray? And how did the college paper take this?
To this mother — and all the other students and parents who are upset with the police — RELAX.
Not just “relax,” but in ALL CAPS, which means it’s really serious.
This wasn’t police brutality. They didn’t target any individual student.
Aside from this line being a non sequitur, as there is not, nor has there ever been, a limitation on police brutality that it target any individual as opposed to randomly attacking large groups without regard to who has engaged in any wrongdoing and who is merely innocently there, yet suffers the same harm, it’s foundationally idiotic. Force was used. It was not used in response to anything, but in anticipation of the possibility of a riot.
More importantly, every student who took to the streets understood the risk of being there, long before the Eagles won the game.
Granted, students celebrating the Eagles’ win aren’t the brightest group, but the notion of some collective culpability for the risk of “being there,” on top of the notion of anticipatory punishment, is bizarre. And not for the sake of human welfare, even though that too would be wrong, but because of the possibility of property damage.
The State College police used pepper spray twice last year to control the riots that followed two major Penn State football wins. And while the pepper spray worked in those situations, the students still caused an estimated $42,000 in damages between the two riots, $30,000 of which came from the first one on Oct. 23, 2016.
Had the police used the pepper spray sooner in those riots, we wonder if the damages would’ve been a lot less costly.
And if the cops just locked up all kids from ages 15 to 25, would they wonder if there would be a lot less crime as well?
We can’t fault the police for assuming the worst was going to happen, which is what they’re supposed to do in every situation. They too knew they risked backlash for pepper-spraying the crowd of students, but they felt a few angry people were worth thousands of dollars in destruction.
We won’t know for sure what would’ve happened had they not pepper-sprayed so early, but their haste definitely kept a raucous congregation of students from getting further out of hand.
That anyone, of any political persuasion, would applaud the police use of force in “haste,” reflects an acquiescence to authority, a trivialization of the use of force, a denigration of civil rights, beyond comprehension. This is the narrative that justifies any authoritarianism by wrapping it up in what never happened because of what was done beforehand to prevent it.
Had this appeared at PoliceOne, it might have been an understandable apologia for the excesses employed by Penn State cops. But this was in the student newspaper, which claims to be one of the best college rags in the nation. And the editorial tells students and their parents who were subject to the use of force for having not yet done anything wrong to relax?
To say a “few angry people were worth” preventing “thousand of dollars in destruction” misses the point. Had it been a few permanent injuries, which easily and often follow police use of pepper spray as people start to flee, trample others, or attack police in response, would it still be a worthy trade-off for some property damage that had yet to happen?
This isn’t to say that Eagles fans can be trusted to not find something monumentally stupid and awful to do to celebrate the only Super Bowl win they will ever enjoy, but for a student newspaper to laud force against people in anticipation of property damage is utterly idiotic. Even in Pennsylvania, this is beyond the pale.