An orderly crowd first filled the lawn in front of Old Main when news of Mr. Paterno’s firing came via students’ cellphones. When the crowd took to the downtown streets, its anger and intensity swelled. Students shouted “We are Penn State.”I'm interested in the way this protest resembles the Wisconsin protests and the Occupy [Your City] protests and the way it does not. We have a growing culture of protest in America right now. There are certain clichés, like: "We are [X]." So: "We are the 99%" is echoed here as "We are Penn State." There's a group claiming to embody far more people than are present at the protest. There are the vuzuvelas.
Some blew vuvuzelas, others air horns. One young man sounded reveille on a trumpet....
Just before midnight the police lost control of the crowd. Chanting, “Tip the van,” they toppled the news vehicle and then brought down a nearby lamp post. When the police opened up with pepper spray, some in the crowd responded by hurling rocks, cans of soda and flares. They also tore down street signs, tipped over trash cans and newspaper vending boxes and shattered car windows.
Some students noted the irony that they had come out to oppose what they saw as a disgraceful end to Mr. Paterno’s distinguished career as a football coach, and then added to the ignobility of the episode by starting an unruly protest....
As the crowd got more aggressive, so did police officers. Some protesters fought back. One man in gas mask rushed a half dozen police officers in protective gear, blasted one officer with pepper spray underneath his safety mask and then sprinted away. The officer lay on the ground, rubbing his eyes.
But the Penn State protest instantly went into riot mode, with violence galore. That makes it different from the Wisconsin protests, which got very big and went on for weeks and weeks, with lots of noise, but practically nothing that can be called violence and only one truly disorderly night, nearly a month into the protests. And even that did not include a battle with the police. The the Occupy [Your City] protests have likewise dragged on for a long time, in a lot of different places, but people are working reasonably well to control each other, even as criminals and lowlifes can easily join the overnight camps.
But look at Penn State. The young people receive the news that their hero-coach got the boot, and they're there in instant full riot mode. Why the difference? You might say it's an outburst of pure emotion. What happened has already happened. There's no policy to influence, no course of events to sway. There's nothing left to do but howl. But look at that quote I put in the post title, and look at the way the attacks were directed at reporters. There does seem to be a message beyond inarticulate screams of rage and sorrow. It's directed not at the government and not at the banks and the corporations, but at the media. The media was unfair. The media took a great man down. The protesters may be in a frenzy, but — taking that quote for all it's worth — the media had its feeding frenzy on Joe Paterno and destroyed him overnight.
There's a lot to think about here, but I want to highlight the anger at the media. Of all the things that are firing up protesters these days, it is the media that fired the most rage.