Was an aggressive police response warranted in advance of a possible student uprising after the University of Minnesota's Frozen Four game?
That's a question some critics are asking as the university and police seek to learn lessons from melees in Dinkytown Thursday and Saturday nights.
School officials made it clear through campus-wide emails that no misbehavior would be tolerated in the streets after the game Saturday. Officials warned that even curious bystanders could be subject to punishment.
But some students say the university's zero-tolerance policy – and widespread media coverage of it – begged students to gather.
Even before the Frozen Four national championship game had ended on Saturday, hundreds of law enforcement officers – dressed in riot gear and armed with tear gas, batons and a helicopter – were out in Minneapolis' Dinkytown neighborhood prepared for what could happen.
The no-tolerance warning from the university and increased police presence on Saturday came after 10 people were arrested when crowds swarmed through Dinkytown following the Gophers' buzzer-beating semifinal win over North Dakota in the Frozen Four two days before.
The university's email and the media coverage of the planned police presence has U of M student body President Mike Schmit hoping that officials will rethink how the school prepares for such events in the future, according to the Star Tribune. He told the newspaper that it created “the almost implied expectation that there was going to be a riot."
After the two nights of rowdy gatherings, 29 people were arrested, 16 of them students at the U of M. Most of the accused were written citations on the scene for unlawful assembly or disorderly conduct, but a few were taken into custody. One man, an Augsburg College student, was charged with assaulting a police officer during Saturday night's disturbance. He appeared in court Tuesday and was released on bail, with conditions, WCCO says.
Sophomore Josh Klems told FOX 9 that it wasn't just the crowds' fault, saying, "It's partly on [the police], and partly on the students ... [The police] had the batons, then they had the tear gas, which – a lot of people trying to get home were getting tear gassed."
Chris Iverson defends the disturbance in an editorial published by Streets.Mn saying people weren't gathering because they were planning to riot, but because they were all forced together on crowded sidewalks after leaving the bars. He says that 98 percent of the crowd was having fun and singing songs, while 2 percent of the crowd that wanted to take it to the next level caused police to react.
Thomas Strand, a U of M student, wrote an opinion piece that was published in the Star Tribune on Monday saying, in part, that blaming police for "instigating the escalation of the riots" is "absurd for blatantly obvious reasons." He said that destruction of property justifies police response. Strand added that "invoking the freedom of assembly to rationalize inebriated belligerence is to marginalize the past and present social issues that are rightly associated with this freedom."
Police had noted that they achieved one best-possible outcome: No major injuries were reported in the melees.
Former Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan told FOX 9 that heavy police force can incite a crowd, however, it's difficult to tell if police could have done anything differently to prevent the weekend's riots from escalating.
"It's a tough call – especially with the way the riots were earlier this week," Dolan told the news station. "Something must have happened where it led to forceful action, 'cause I know that's something they really don't want to do."
A spokesperson with the Minneapolis Police Department told FOX 9 that they are still assessing their approach to the riots, and they do not intend to share any information until that process is complete.
The U of M told the Star Tribune that it will continue to work on its plan for preventing riots in the future, but university officials did not comment on the tactics that were used over the weekend.
The University of Minnesota isn't the only school that's had to deal with riots following a team's win – or loss. There was a riot following the University of Arizona's loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA basketball tournament. In 2011, ESPN compiled a list of notable sports riots. Earlier this week, the Star Tribune addressed the era of sports riots in a column.