By Elaine Magliaro
I’ve traveled to Keene, New Hampshire, on many occasions. I used to go there every October to attend the wonderful Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival. I even served on the festival’s advisory board from 2006-2008. Keene is a lovely, quiet, idyllic New England college town. I always enjoyed spending time there during foliage season.
I was saddened and shocked to hear about the recent riot in Keene during its famous Pumpkin Festival. From the multiple reports that I’ve read about what happened last weekend, crowds of drunken—and predominately white—college kids went wild. Inebriated partiers smashed windows, slashed tires, tore down street signs, and overturned cars and Dumpsters. They also threw bottles, beer cans, skateboards, buckets, and pumpkins. At least thirty people sustained injuries—including lacerations and broken bones—and had to be transported to a nearby hospital. Injuries were incurred during fistfights, jumps from rooftops—and from other blunt traumas.
Riots, fires, violence continue in Keene streets Saturday night
Melanie Plenda (The Daily Beast) noted that one “police report indicated that residents of a student housing unit in a neighborhood near Keene State College attacked firefighters called to the building.” The unruly crowd was also reported to have lobbed bottles at EMT’s as they were attempting to treat injured people.
Plenda reported that Dana Colson, who manages three of the properties adjacent to the field where much of the trouble started, said the partiers “were out of hand.” He added, “They just went nuts.”
Ali Taylor, who owns the Alpha Dogs restaurant on Winchester Street, where some of the riots broke out, said that early Saturday afternoon, she started noticing huge crowds of college-age kids running from one side of the street—a heavily trafficked artery leading to Main Street—to the other, “almost like they were crisscrossing,” she said.
“They started standing on top of cars and tipping cars,” she said. “They were climbing on streetlight posts and pushing them over. They had these big bars they were using to hit the street signs and light posts. Half the lights on campus are out. It’s bad. It’s really bad. I’m just so glad that none of the people on Main Street at the Pumpkin Festival knew what was happening.”
George Hebner, a 22-year old senior at Keene State College, said that when he returned home after work that day he saw a “charred black spot in the middle of Blake Street.” He added, “That used to be my couch.”
Plenda reported that some of the “revelers” appeared to be quite pleased with themselves. Steven French, an 18-year-old who said he was visiting from Haverhill, Massachusetts, said, “It’s (expletive) wicked. It’s just like a rush. You’re revolting from the cops…It’s a blast to do things that you’re not supposed to do.”
Former N.H. State Rep. Steve Lindsey described his experience while he was working on Keene State’s campus when the riots broke out. He wrote about it on Facebook.
“Security asked me to lock the double steel doors of the student center. (Rioters) were building a barricade across Winchester Street and looking for material. Our… mail carts and mobile trash barrels would have suited them fine. Hands shaking… I found the right keys and locked the door bars. I went into the center to warn the cooks. The crowd was getting out of hand.”
Plenda wrote that when the time came to leave work, “Lindsey offered to go with his boss to get his car, which was parked in the middle of the melee. Once they got to the car, Lindsey was going to try to clear a path for his boss to back out.”
Lindsay also wrote:
“But he yelled ‘Get in!’ I did but as I did, a big lamp post with a large lantern came crashing down behind us, six feet, and shattered. He drove ahead and crack, a beer bottle smashed against the side of his car. He kept his cool as we weaved in and out of the crowd, We did not want to hit anyone as that would have been the end of us… A second bottle hit our car. Then what I took to be a rock. But we moved ahead away from the maelstrom.”
Oh well, boys will be boys. It was all in a day’s fun. At least there were no scary young black thugs jaywalking in the middle of the street—so police were able to keep their guns holstered. There were no violent rioters like there were in Ferguson, Missouri…PTL
Meanwhile…back in Ferguson, Missouri:
Joanna Rothkop (Salon) reported that last Monday afternoon, ten protesters “approached the St. Louis County Justice Center with a wagon full of pumpkins on which they had written ‘RACISM,’ ‘WHITE PRIVILEGE,’ ‘HATE’ and ‘POLICE BRUTALITY.’” Derek Laney, the protest organizer “vocally condemned the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown…” Laney then “threw a pumpkin to the ground, where it splattered before the feet of several officers…”
“We are going to smash [pumpkins] symbolically at the foot of someone who can bring [the Brown] case to justice,” said Laney. “It’s another way to let people know we will be heard.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Laney said the staged event also hoped to draw attention to the disparity between the portrayal of the nearly 50 white college students arrested Friday at the annual Keene, N.H. Pumpkin Festival and the characterization of the disruptions in Ferguson following Brown’s shooting.
The Keene State University students, he noted, were described as “unruly,” “causing a ruckus” and “drunken revelers” while the Ferguson demonstrators were identified as “rioters” and “thugs.”
“We’re using that as a jumping off point to insist on justice for Mike Brown,” said Laney, an organizer with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment.
Laney and two other protesters were arrested. Kevin Gosztola (firedoglake) reported that police “charged protesters with littering offenses and an assault offense. Even though the pumpkin never left one woman’s hands, it was taken away from her, and she was charged with conspiring to litter.”
What could be a more dastardly crime than “conspiring to litter?” Lock her up…and throw away the key, I say!!!
In her Salon article titled White menaces to society: Keene State and the danger of young drunk white men, Brittney Cooper wrote about drunken white revelers in another college town:
On at least two occasions, one of my good friends, a fellow professor, called to say that she had come out to her car on a Saturday night in this college town to find a drunk college kid urinating beside her car. On both occasions, she weighed the benefits of confronting the drunk white guy blocking her access, or simply waiting till he had finished and moved on.
Implicit in her stories was a truth we refuse to tell: These young drunk white men were dangerous. Menacing. And they are made more dangerous precisely because their disrespect for public space and private citizens is seen as mere play, mere college kids having a good time, rather than as a threat.
But what the events in Keene suggest is that white folks often test the bounds and limits of public decency and order with little long-term reprisal. There were some arrests, and some tear gas. But no dead bodies. No stigma about white anger. No come to Jesus meetings about White America’s problem children. No public discourse about these “menaces to society.” As many commentators on Twitter pointed out, there’ll be no articles about the absence of white leadership, or about how white folks just need to learn respect for public property.
How does it feel to be white? Does it feel like freedom? Freedom to piss on people and property with impunity? Freedom to burn shit up and live to tell about it? Freedom to threaten old people and wake up the next morning and chalk it up to drunkenness? License to kill?
This isn’t just about civility. This is, as are most things in this country, about stark and disparate forms of racial treatment. This is about the ways that white threat is largely illegible as “threat.” This is about the fact that a band of wild, drunken black college kids could not have turned over cars, threatened old people, and shouted about killing the cops and lived.
White Privilege Even Applies To Riots – The Proof Is In The Pumpkins (The Young Turks)
Ferguson’s amazing pumpkin-spiced protest reveals America’s repugnant double standard on race: “I wonder if all the white teens in St. Louis County that smash pumpkins on Halloween will face arrest” (Salon)
Frat Culture Clashes With Riot Police at Keene, N.H., Pumpkin Festival: Tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and SWAT teams were hard pressed to contain the rioters who seemed to delight in destruction at the Keene, N.H., Pumpkin Festival. (The Daily Beast)