MSU Student Riots Over March Madness Full of Misconceptions

March 31, 2012

College Basketball

March Madness in East Lansing comes with a certain stigma in the public eye. Both local and national focus has often been on the riots and demonstrations brought on by the performance of the Michigan State Spartans in the NCAA Tournament, but East Lansing police Capt. Kim Johnson said that labeling the riots specific to MSU students is unfair and untrue.

This video is an example of how bad the MSU riots have gotten in the past. For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen anything nearly this bad in my time as a student here.

“From the police department’s standpoint, we don’t associate students and riots together, basically,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a bad label that gets placed on the students.”

While some MSU students do participate in the sports-driven riots, many of the people involved in such activities are just visitors hoping to be around for something exciting.

“Sometimes we’ve had problems in the past where student-aged people get out of hand,” Johnson said. “Some of these people are not MSU students. Some of these people are people who just come into the area because the Final Four or whatever else.”

No matter who participates in these demonstrations however, police prepare accordingly. This year, the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament happened to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that is traditionally celebrated raucously in college towns, so East Lansing police had all the more reason to heavily staff the station.

“When we expect large crowds in the city, especially on Final Four weekend and championship nights, if we get that far, we make sure we have enough personnel onboard and we make sure we have enough staff to handle all of our calls and service,” Johnson said. “The thing is, I’m one of the people to make sure we deal with all of our calls and service and we handle calls as they come into the dispatch center. We also have a lot of high visibility with police officers out in the streets enforcing the laws and also trying to keep people safe while they’re in our city throughout that particular weekend.”

Johnson also pointed out that celebrations revolving around March Madness haven’t escalated into a riot since 2005. A riot did occur in 2009 outside of Cedar Village apartments, on-campus living complexes located at Bogue Street and Waters Edge Drive, but it happened as part of Cedar Fest, an annual party held at the apartments.

An East Lansing police officer poses with a student during what was almost considered a riot in 2009. This is a clear example of how much tamer such demonstrations have become. Photo by Chris Dzombak - Michigan Daily.

Sam Inglot, an MSU journalism senior, believes that the increased police presence for eventful weekends may be deterring people from getting out of hand.

“It was more just police presence with people standing on the street corners,” said MSU journalism senior Sam Inglot, who lives near Cedar Village, describing the scene after the Spartans’ 57-44 loss to Louisville on March 22. “Nobody would hang out in the street, nobody was throwing anything. I mean, people threw glass bottles, but not when police were around. The street actually kind of glittered with all the shards of broken glass. Pretty uneventful though, just because there was such a strong police presence and the fact that we lost so early in the tournament, and so badly; I think that kind of snuffed out people’s riot energy.”

Other students seemed to echo these thoughts about both the atmosphere after the Spartans’ loss, as well as the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

“During St. Patty’s Day … I didn’t really see anything crazy, it was more just lots of bottles breaking,” said Lance Valls, an MSU biochemistry and molecular biology senior who lives in Cedar Village. “People had the urge to just break stuff, I mean, that was about it.”

Valls described the scene as “nothing crazy, nothing violent,” and said that police were on-hand to make sure all broken glass was cleaned up.

Students in MSU’s criminal justice program find out early in their college career that everything is not what it seems when it comes to on-campus crimes. Matt Grover, an MSU criminal justice senior, said that they are taught in freshman year criminology courses that campus crimes, at MSU and across the country, from riots to sexual assaults are often committed by people who do not attend that university.

Grover, like Johnson and many others, hopes to see facts like this reported more often in order to get rid of the public stigma. He believes that the association of big MSU athletic events with riots and burning couches reflects negatively on the student body as a whole.

“It’s not fair to the rest of the students, you know, they come to a good school,” Grover said. “It’s unfair. There’s students that come here and all they want to do is study and succeed in their college careers.”

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4 Comments on “MSU Student Riots Over March Madness Full of Misconceptions”

  1. mattpocket Says:

    Yeah, it’s usually people who hear a story, decide it’s the place to be, get drunk, and try to live out some wild drunk fantasy. People who go to a school typically know better (until it begins… then it’s a free-for-all).


  2. skoobasteve Says:

    “at MSU and across the country, from riots to sexual assaults are often committed by people who do not attend that university.”

    … Yep. So true. Apparently Ann Arbor had some major problems St. Patricks Day, and all the bars had to close early on the main streets. Apparently tear gas was being threatened by campus police. Didn’t hear too much about that though. Crazy.


    • jcnewsflow Says:

      That’s crazy. I hadn’t heard about that. I learned quite a bit covering this story, honestly. That’s one of the things I love most about journalism…you literally learn something new with almost every story you write.


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