By Carina Sorrentino
The Union Men’s Hockey team won this weekend’s NCAA Championship, and excitement took to the streets as a crowd on Union Street gathered to keep the celebration going. Unfortunately, the fun turned to aggression as intervention from the Schenectady Police resulted in the arrest of five students by the end of the night.
A crowd of hundreds formed on Union Street around 11 p.m., chanting at cars passing by in honor of the victory. Students waved flags and high-fived passersby. As police arrived to block off the street from traffic, the scene took an unfortunate turn.
Reports state that students were allegedly throwing bottles and beer cans at officers, none of whom were injured. In response, the officers utilized pepper spray and made arrests.
Charges for those arrested included: inciting a riot, disorderly conduct, menacing and, in some cases, resisting arrest. Police Lieutenant Mark McCracken made several statements that other arrests for underage drinking and open containers could have been made. However, the authorities were doing their best to let students enjoy their time.
Mayor Gary McCarthy arrived and, over a cruiser’s loudspeaker, encouraged the crowd to disperse in order to avoid any further issues. However, the crowd remained in the area and continued to shout praise for the win.
After cops began making arrests and pushing young men onto the hoods of their cars, the crowd screamed, “Police brutality,” in unison. Students seemed unanimously in agreement that the police were unnecessarily forceful with those they chose to take into custody. From the photos released of those who were arrested, it was apparent that some actions had been taken that caused students to appear as though violence was, in fact, inflicted.
McCracken told the press that his officers did not use excessive force by any means and he commended them for their handling of the situation. Even after the arrests had been made the crowd did not begin to disperse until near 1 a.m.
While mainstream news teams have conveyed the dedication and lenience of Schenectady’s authorities, students who saw the event firsthand have different opinions. Many students have stated that they felt police were overly aggressive with people who had no intention of causing harm.
One student commented that the use of pepper spray on a group of students was overwhelming and seemingly unwarranted. “We were standing there yelling chants, and then all of a sudden we were sprayed,” remarked one student. “Basically I was coughing a lot and had to walk away from the group to get out of the spray. My throat hurt a lot from the constant coughing.”
A clip is circulating of a student in pain from the spray and a friend pouring his drink into his eyes in hopes of minimizing the pain. Dan Minnes ’14 stated having a peculiar interaction with one of the authorities. He commented, “I was standing on the opposite side of the street from where a Union student was being forcefully arrested against a parked car.
“All of a sudden, a police officer came out of nowhere, grabbing my phone and walking away with it. When I finally got it back, thanks to the help of another Union student and officer, multiple videos had been deleted from my phone.” Minnes continued, “The only video still left was the one I had been recording at the time the officer took my phone. It is clearly unlawful what the officer did. I was simply standing out of the way trying to film history.”
Union was not the only school to have had a stand-off with its local authorities. University of Minnesota fans, disgruntled at their loss, also took to the streets, but with more sinister intentions. Fires were started and police cars were vandalized. At the end of the night, 19 Minnesota rioters were arrested.
In light of the comparatively differing situations, it is questionable as to why the Schenectady police officers felt it necessary to insert themselves in Union’s “riot” as they did. After many student accounts, it seems that there is some debate over whether the arrests were made on valid grounds, or rather as an assertion of control.
Students’ aggressive behavior toward authorities was cited as the legitimating grounds for using pepper spray and arresting five students. According to McCracken, one officer was hit in the back with a bottle, which broke on impact and did not cause him injury.
While four of the five students were released Sunday morning and charged only with misdemeanors, the long-term impact of their criminal records could prove costly. Union’s spokesman Phil Wajda issued this statement to local papers: “We are very proud of the way the majority of our students and fans celebrated our first national championship. “Unfortunately, a handful of fans chose to behave inappropriately. As a result, they will now have to face the consequences for their actions.”
Local publications have protrayed student behavior as antagonistic. Popular opinion of students who witnessed the scene seems to contradict local media’s portrayal of events, however.
While only five will have to face the greater punishments for Saturday’s display, it should also be recognized that the authorities may not have taken the best approach in dealing with the circumstances. Despite the unfortunate manner in which the evening played out, the core of the students’ intentions was celebration and congratulations for an exciting victory that Union will not soon forget.