October 30, 2005

It's "a Madison thing. You do it because you are in Madison."

Let's check to see how that Halloween partying on State Street went last night:
At midnight, police were estimating that 100,000 people were on State Street, although people in the crowd continued to be able to walk freely and there were few areas of serious congestion....

The crowd swelled in the 500 block of State Street near the Pub and small groups of mostly young men began singing "Ole, ole, ole," a soccer chant and apparently the anthem of those hoping to see a ruckus in Madison.

At about the same time, police riding horses through the crowd stopped being effective at keeping the crowd moving and dispersing the jumping chanters.

At 1:40 a.m., police turned on a recorded announcement that thanks partiers for coming to State Street and wishes them "safe travel" to their next destination.

Although many revelers did leave, a persistent group of 2,000 or so remained tightly packed in the 500 block.

Matt Sokol, 19, a UW-Whitewater student, said the chanting "is a Madison thing. You do it because you are in Madison."

Sokol and his friends, including Kristi Prokop, 18, said they didn't want to see anyone hurt. But they appeared to feel that to get the full effect of Halloween in Madison, it would include "a riot."

Rioting, most would agree, is not a good word for what happened early Sunday - despite belligerence toward police there was little, if any, serious violence.

Police forced people on the 500 block to the sidewalks several times in attempt to shrink and quell the crowd.

But when people were allowed to fall back into the street once officers left, chanting and jumping would always resume, supplemented by shouted jibes at police.

By 2 a.m., police were telling people to leave, backed up by an all-but inaudible loudspeaker announcement declaring it an unlawful assembly, and forcing those on the 500 block toward State Street mall.

The confrontations between police and the crowd turned ugly when cups filled with beverages and ice were thrown toward officers and horses. A few young men climbed onto a bus shelter and tried to climb light poles in front of the University Inn at Frances Street.

Teams of police started jogging off the street to an area behind the University Inn shortly after that. Word spread through the crowd that they were coming back with "tear gas." Some partiers left, but most remained - again resuming the chanting.

Police in riot-gear showed up and again started herding people off the street, this time using pepper spray, dispersed in bursts from canisters that resemble fire extinguishers.
Overall, was it a successful event? With 100,000 people on the street at midnight and apparently no significant property damage -- in previous years store windows were broken -- it seems as though it was. Surely, the police are entitled to clear a huge crowd at some point, and the pepper spray was used on the folks who insisted on coming back. It seems to me, based on this article, that both the crowd and the police did a nice job. Am I wrong?


me said...

I left about 12:30 (or 11:30 w/ the day light savings switch). At that time, it was an extremely friendly and festive gathering. From the accounts in the paper, it clearly seems that a certain fringe group wanted a confrontation with the police, and the police cordially provided that confrontation.

A friend of mine suggested letting the bars stay open all night, as the confrontation always occurs when the bars let out. When bars are open all night, people quit drinking in a staggered manner.

Compared to year's past, the conclusion was much less drastic.

Yes, it was a success. Halloween is Madison's Mardi Gras.

Squints said...

"When bars are open all night, people quit drinking in a staggered manner."

Yes. Yes, they do. Heh.

Brad V said...

Yes, the police can be expected to clear the street at some point. But what's the justification for the arbitrary deadline? The solid bar time seemed to create a confrontational point for the crowd and police force to escalate toward.

Admittedly, the missiles thrown at the mounted officers are not excusable, and stand as a reasonable justification for the final push.

Overall, the event seemed to be a success: little or no property damage and police action against those who wanted it (the crowd at one point was actually cheering "We Want Tear Gas").

Here are some on-the-street pictures of the night's events:


Ann Althouse said...

"We want tear gas"... hmmm, that might explain all those gas masks displayed in the window (in my Halloween post pictures yesterday).

nina said...

Yes, I was there and saw absolutely no wild or out of control behavior. Awesome costumes. (I posted a few photos on my blog. What amazed me how much flesh there was. I was wearing a shirt, sweater, scarf and warm jacket, just to give you an idea of the temps.)

DRJ said...

No, you are not wrong. The police showed restraint and the crowd did a "nice job" - if you mean by the crowd the vast majority of people who left when the police asked them to leave.

But you are wrong if you include in your description the people who threw ice and bottles at and demonstrated "belligerence toward police". These people, who had to be dispersed by riot police using pepper spray, were not nice simply because they didn't engage in wholesale destruction of property.

Surely college students can have a good time without destroying property and requiring dispersal by riot police.

Andy Kaufman said...

Last night's events made the local news out here in the Bay Area. They're nervous about the same type of thing happening tomorrow night in the Castro.

But to me, it sounds like it was a bit tamer than the past few years. There's always something newsworthy from Halloween in Madison whether it's property damage, fugly lesbian exhibitionism, or mass pepper spraying. I wonder how many of the troublemakers were actually Madtown residents?

jeff said...

Sounds like the police did it right, based on the description posted.

They had plenty of warning, and pepper spray is decidedly non-lethal.