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James Madison block party turns into riot

Jenna Johnson

An annual multi-block party near James Madison University in Virginia, dubbed Springfest by students, usually attracts about 2,000 people. But this year, more than 8,000 people gathered in popular student neighborhoods to celebrate the warm weather -- and when officers announced on loud speakers that everyone needed to leave late Saturday afternoon, no one listened.

Instead, some of them threw beer and liquor bottles, started fights and broke windows, The JMU Breeze reports.

The local police department asked for help from multiple agencies and more than 200 officers, many dressed in riot gear, worked to shut down the party. The Breeze reported that officers threw tear gas grenades, released pepper spray and hit party-goers with rubber bullets and beanbags.

By the end of the night, police had made more than 30 arrests (although, they are still tallying them up) and responded to a stabbing. Three or four people were flown to the U.Va Medical Center and about 30 people were treated at Rockingham Memorial Hospital, although police did not have details on the injuries Sunday, The Breeze reports.

Additionally, more than a dozen officers sustained minor injuries, including cuts and bruises from thrown beer bottles and rocks, Lt. Kurt Boshart of the Harrisonburg Police Department told The Breeze.

Sunday evening JMU President Linwood Rose said in an e-mail to the campus community, "Your collective behavior was an embarrassment to your university and a discredit to our reputation."

But those causing problems weren't necessarily just JMU students. Boshart told The Breeze that a large segment of the crowd came from other colleges, such as Virginia Tech, Washington and Lee, and William & Mary. "We had people from Fairfax coming in with no ties to JMU whatsoever," Boshart told The Breeze.

In addition to those arrested over the weekend, Boshart told The Breeze that officers videotaped the crowd and will press further charges if they are able to identify any more perpetrators. The university's Judicial Affairs will also receive the arrest information for students.

The Breeze also has an online slideshow of photos from the riot. And WHSV Channel 3 in Harrisonburg has video.

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By Jenna Johnson  |  April 12, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  News Overload  | Tags: James Madison  
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don't cry.
don't raise your eyes.
its only...

... Teenage Wasteland!

Posted by: MarilynManson | April 12, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Well, I'll say it since the usual commentators haven't. Animals! Despicable culture! What a vicious and violent group.

Posted by: case50 | April 12, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

JMU President Linwood Rose said in an e-mail to the campus community, "Your collective behavior was an embarrassment to your university and a discredit to our reputation."

President Linwood Rose received a 16.9 percent raise for 2008-09, an increase of $66,000. If you include 2007-08's 7.6 percent raise, Rose was paid nearly $94,000 more than he was in 2006-07. Rose was compensated $456,287 in salary and benefits for 2008-09, up from $390,287 the year before, according to officials at JMU.

During a time of budget cuts and tuition increases, I think it's Profiteer Rose who is the embarrassment.

Posted by: millionea7 | April 12, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

The cops in Harrisonburg are idiots. They were loving every second of Saturday, feeling so macho with their plastic shields and chemical weapons. They probably went home to their trailers that night, put on a little Kenny Chesney, popped open a Bud Light and told their ugly wives about how they made a difference in the community that day. They gathered up the family, pointed to the high school diploma on the wall sitting in a $3 frame from Wal-Mart and told their kids that one day you too can save the world one college party at a time. All you need is strait C's, a bully complex, a love for guns and a hatred of those damn liberal college kids. Congrats though HPD, the weapons made by people smarter than you worked. I hope everyone at Sunday service gave you a big pat on the back for teaching us a lesson.

Posted by: jmuriot2010 | April 12, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

My how things are so screwed up with posters. I just read another article concerning a double shooting in Suitland, MD over the weekend and the forum kept mentioning that "it must have been African-Americans due to the atmosphere/time of early morning", dope deals, etc. Now I read this JMU article and WOW, what a "relief". 30+ arrests in this riot started by drunk, underage punks with nothing better to do than to destroy property and assault the police. Where are the negative posts now folks? And it's JMU and not Howard U.

Posted by: antonioarnold | April 12, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I want to know the reason they wanted everyone to go home?? Power trippin COPS?? no way...

Posted by: rockettonu | April 12, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

To jmuriot2010 - your post was ignorant and rude. Way to mass generalize an entire organization just because they broke up your rager. Grow up.

I went to Block Party every year when I was at JMU and everyone had a blast without lighting dumpsters on fire and destroying property.

People are saying the police could have handled this better? Sure, but how could they have prepared for something like this? I think the students should have handled this better. If people didn't want the police to show up then they shouldn't have done anything that made them need to be there.

This is so disappointing. I love JMU, but this makes everyone look really bad.

Posted by: Arlington06 | April 12, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like there were just too many people, in a limited space.

Watch, this will move to a field somewhere, $20 and a wristband, and some loser will make a ton of money on it.

Posted by: 123cartoon | April 12, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Man, what a mess.

It's good to hear that there were no serious injuries (the property damage can be fixed).

The cops probably escalated the situation by showing up in the riot gear and using tear gas and rubber bullets. Could they have achieved the same outcome with less property damage? Probably.

On the other hand, the students have to be a lot smarter about these kind of things. If you have a party that involves a beer truck, DJ's and several thousand people you've got to limit the excuses that the cops will have to break up the party. Especially in a town like H-burg where the tensions between the campus and some of the locals tend to be more stained than elsewhere.

Posted by: JPRS | April 12, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Whatever happened to the good ole days of rubber bullets and the wood shampoo?

Posted by: FusilliJerry1 | April 12, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Lockup these useless thugs. This is typical from these types of useless people who have a propensity to simply always cause trouble.

Posted by: matrox | April 12, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

To Arlington06- First off, excuse us for being an embarrassment to you. The last thing we want to do is ruin your reputation. I know, you were probably the coolest kid in college when you strolled the quad with your frisbee. You waste your time writing a post scolding another blogger for 'generalizing an entire organization'. Then you go on to say you're embarrassed by what the students did. Well, you are the biggest hypocrite in the game my friend. Because while I did attend block party, I left my kerosene soaked rags and glass bottles at home. No, I didn't start fires, throw glass, or destroy cars. And none of my friends did either. I don't have nearly as many friends as you did when you were here, so I can only account for few, but we weren't all involved in the stupid crimes that the hicks of other schools came here to commit. You are as dumb as they are, and you are wasting your time commenting on a blog about something you are vaguely connected to. You grow up, and realize you had no knowledge of what really happened here, and who was really involved.

Posted by: joejoe1 | April 13, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Lower the drinking age and things like this would not occur as much.

Posted by: HawksPride | April 17, 2010 6:27 AM | Report abuse

I, too, must comment on the rude generalization of the Harrisonburg Police Department. As a JMU grad and former resident of the city, I have feet in both camps here. I, too, am embarrassed by this event. When news organizations around the country pick up on a story like this (as they have done), it's kind of hard to explain to folks what's going on and why they shouldn't think pooly of your alma mater. On the other hand, I am smart enough to realize that there were many non-JMU students at this party, and many non-JMU students were among those arrested. And that not everyone who attended were troublemakers, but to "JMUriot2010" and others, I ask this: Do the students (and non-students) at this event bear NO responsibility at all for what happened? Or is it all the police department's fault? Despite your apparent lack of respect for the community that supports this school, 8000 people at a block party would scare the hell out of me. You're dealing with mob mentality at that point, and quite frankly, I don't blame the police for dealing with the situation the way they did. And to the retort about "not being there," no I was not at the party either (I live in Fairfax), but even if you were there, you cannot possibly have a birds-eye view of everything that went on. Not within a crowd of 8000. And while I am a fervent supporter of JMU, I also support President Rose's swift condemnation of the party-goers' behavior. I travel to Harrisonburg quite often to see family and close friends, some of who are connected to JMU, so I am hardly a simple outside observer. My parents have lived there for 30 years, and I have friends who were born and raised there and some who were transplants to the area (like me and my family), so I am quite aware of H'burg's shortcomings, but I'm also quite aware of all it has to offer -- if you would just open your eyes, put your prejudices aside, and as one poster put it, "grow up." And BTW, when I attended JMU, the drinking age WAS 18 -- lots of drinking on and off campus, but I don't recall there ever being an incident like this.

Posted by: JMU1984 | April 18, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

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