12 March 2014
AMHERST—Over 300 UMass students marched in solidarity from the Student Union to Whitmore Administration building on Tuesday in a peaceful demonstration sparked from allegations of police brutality by Amherst police officers during Saturday’s “Blarney Blowout”.
Deemed a peaceful demonstration by organizers from the SGA, Divest, CEPA, and STPEC, “THIS IS UMASS” was created in support of non-violent solutions on the part of students, administration, and police. Blarney was the major topic of an SGA meeting earlier in the week, invoking some members to question past student-administration experience in regards to large demonstrations.
“(The march) isn’t just about Blarney. It’s about student-administration relations,” said SGA President Zac Broughton, one of three pre-march speakers. Broughton called for three non-negotiable demands from Amherst Police: a formal apology, an inquiry into the police brutality claims, and a collective town meeting to talk about what students can and can’t do at large gatherings like Blarney. “Clearly,” Broughton said, “What we’ve done (in the past) isn’t working.”
While the demands were directed to Chancellor Subbaswamy, Associate Chancellor Susan Pearson came outside the administration building to “take a message” for the Chancellor, who was not present during the march.
Chants invoking memories of 2011’s “Occupy” movement were shouted as the group marched, with snaps of approval and cries of “shame!” during scheduled speeches. Participants in the march were able to sign a non-violence petition, an effort to legitimize student support for a change in relations with UMass administration and Amherst Police. Sophomore SGA member Charlotte Kelly was one of three speakers at the event, decrying the response of police and the lack of meaningful response from the university administration.
Kelly ended her speech with a plea to the UMass student body. “When we express our ideas to the UMass administration…all we hear is white noise!” Kelly stated. “This is a bigger issue than Blarney. This is a bigger issue than the ‘riots’ that have occurred here at UMass. This is about students unifying our voices in solidarity, coming together as a student body, and not being silenced!” she said.
Saturday’s events have put the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on a national pedestal, attracting some Amherst locals to the march such as Norman Bie, who carried a picket-sign in support of the students’ cause. According to CEPA-member and event-speaker Preston Davis, the aftermath of Blarney is “what seems to be pretty obvious right now” among the community. Despite an official report from Director of Media Relations Ed Blaguszewski that more than half of those arrested on Saturday had no ties to the university, many students believe that the media coverage of Blarney has shed a negative light on the university. “Our degrees have been devalued…most students tried to exit (Blarney) in an orderly fashion, but the (Amherst) police took it upon themselves to determine it wasn’t fast enough.”
Sophomore Erin Daunt gave a testimony to the crowd about her poor experience with Amherst police on Saturday, claiming that an officer walked up to her on the sidewalk and pulled her by the hair, shouting “get the (expletive) out my face!” Daunt commented post-testimony that officers displayed erratic behavior like that of “someone on drugs”.
Blaguszewski commented on the university’s response to the yearly Blarney events that date back to the 1970’s, stating that the “essential premise of Blarney is inebriation; therefore, this cannot be sanctioned or supported by the university.” The UMass spokesperson assured that the allegations of police brutality are being investigated. “We take that seriously. We want to be thorough in what we do and how we do it. Today the students came and they expressed their demands. We are always interested in hearing from students, and about their safety.”