The night of Friday, September 24, 2010, started as most do for new students.
For Julia Nichols, a university freshman and English major, it began with a text message: “party at 14th and Ferry.” The innocent text gave no details about the number of students gathering at the intersection. Julia gathered her five friends and made the trek, picking up seven more people on the way. The freshman gaggle made its way to the party, but arrived at something entirely different. “When we got there, our jaws dropped” she said. Nichols and her friends had stumbled upon a 400- person mob, blocking the intersection and swarming over vehicles.
The West University Neighborhood, notorious for its parties and raucous behavior, has been the site of many Friday night parties. The house party Nichols and her friends were headed to, on 14th and Ferry, started getting big around 11 o’clock the eve- ning of September 24th.
Described by neighbors as the merger of two separate parties on Ferry Street, it attracted groups of wandering freshmen and continued to grow. When two Eugene police officers arrived at the scene, the mob had grown to a mix of more than 400 drunken students and Eugene locals. Police knew they knew they lacked the manpower to control the mob, and called in three other police departments that would eventually utilize tear gas and safety rounds, more commonly known as “rubber bullets.”
Nichols and her friends arrived at the mass before the police arrived, and didn’t know what to expect. They hadn’t counted on finding a situation like this.
According to Nichols, the mass was like a block party. She said the atmosphere and temper of the partiers was happy and easy-going. The group, which packed the center of the intersection, was chanting “F–k ASU!” and “Go Ducks,” dancing, and just standing around and talking in groups.
“We had no idea it was going to be so cracking,” she said. “It was just like a football game, people weren’t screaming. It wasn’t really out of control except for the flying beer bottles.” Nichols said that a thrown bottle struck her and her friend, Adrianna.
While some neighbors were worried, Bradley Sherman, a resident of the area, said at first the mass wasn’t scary. While he said the atmosphere was friendly and happy, there was still disorderly conduct that escalated when police arrived. Sherman said partiers, after their arrival, vandalized cars and tore down street signs. He recalls the mass swarming around the intersection. Sherman says the turning point came when a girl started dancing on top of a car.
“The crowd was chanting, ‘Show your t–s! Show your t–s!’” Sherman remembered. “When she didn’t take her shirt off, they started throwing bottles and cans.” When a woman attempted to move her car, she was stopped and several young men ran up and over the vehicle. It was this 400-person mob that a Eugene Police Department “party patrol” encountered when they turned on to Ferry Street that night.
Upon police arrival, the mass became aggressive. Partiers began pulling signs out of the street, beating cars, and throwing bottles at the officers. Chants changed from “F–k ASU!” to “F–k the police!”
The officers, realizing the need for additional units, did not hesitate to request assistance. Within an hour, 35 additional officers from Lane County Sheriff’s Office, Springfield Police Department, and Oregon State Police had arrived.
“They had taken over the intersection,” recalls EPD Lt. Sam Kamkar. EPD Sergeant M. Gilbert, a police veteran, was the supervising officer at the scene and was responsible for calling in assistance. He knew that if the situation wasn’t controlled, it could spiral out of hand all too quickly.
While officers donned riot gear, he hailed the crowd, telling them their gathering was illegal, and ordering them to disperse. A beer bottle shattering at his feet was
the last straw.
“When we take projectiles,” he explains, “we answer with gas.”
The tear gas, a harmless but highly irritating compound, had the desired effect. Upon deployment, the crowd quickly dispersed. A few stragglers remained in defiance of police orders to leave, but were subdued with either non-lethal rounds or police force and taken into custody.
Lt. Kamkar was disappointed with the ordeal the night of the 24th, and hopes students can be more responsible. He believes that the party calls detract from problems like burglaries, traffic and drug crime. “We would like to stop responding to party calls,” he said, “so we can focus on responding to real issues in the community.”
The response to the riot was decisive and almost efficient: visits from UO President Richard “Dick” Lariviere, Amelie Rousseau, and Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, as well as a community meeting at the Central Presbyterian Church on 15th Ave. Unfortunately, the experts can only agree on one thing: young college students drink at an early age and can’t control their liquor intake.
Ross Coyle is the publisher of the Oregon Commentator and a student at the University of Oregon. He is a contributor to the Student Free Press Association.