Civil unrest not uncommon

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Aug 242004
 
Authors: James Baetke

Riots and acts of civil disobedience are not unfamiliar

occurrences in Fort Collins. Dating as far back as the late 1800s,

old-fashioned showdowns are documented.

Last weekend, city law enforcement members tear-gassed two riots

that took place near the CSU campus. Cars were overturned and

damaged, one person was taken to the hospital and five arrests have

been made so far in the investigation.

CSU expelled six students in 1997 for participating in a riot

that occurred on two successive Friday nights. More recently, in

May, a disturbance broke out where two men were charged for

rioting.

Fort Collins librarian and local historian Rheba Massey said

riots, war protests and civil disobedience, in general, does take

place in Fort Collins.

“Every year CSU students do something like (civil disobedience),

so this is not uncommon,” Massey said. “In the 1800s the cowboys

and the college kids got into a fight.”

Massey said the downtown showdown was much less violent than the

outbursts this weekend, and he chuckled at the notion of cowboys

with shotguns being demanded to leave town by students armed with

notebooks.

CSU was the site of anti-war demonstrations when U.S. forces

invaded Cambodia during the week of May 8, 1970, which resulted in

the burning of the historic “Old Main” building on campus and minor

rioting. Although the burning was determined to be arson, the

connection between the protests and the fire are unclear, but city

historians say they almost are certainly linked.

Two-thousand people are documented to have marched to City Hall

that day in an uproar against war. Supported by CSU faculty at the

time, students either boycotted class or discussed war issues in

class.

In 1987, a large party in the Baystone area erupted into a

riot.

In January 1998, a street riot occurred while people were

celebrating the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl victory.

Other demonstrations, such as the Hispanic community marching to

the city courthouse in the 1970s, have occurred throughout the

city’s history.

CSU Police Department Capt. Bob Chaffee said last weekend’s

riots are similar to others that have happened during his 28-year

tenure at CSU. Chaffee said they were “up there at the top of

riots” as far as the overall harm they caused.

“People do stupid stuff in the presence of alcohol and in the

anonymity of a group,” Chaffee said.

Chaffee remembers the disturbances in 1997 and during the 1986

and 1987 school season the most vividly, but he does not like to

bring back the memories because they do not accurately represent

CSU or the community he has learned to love, Chaffee said.

Some Fort Collins residents disagree that civil unrest happens

in Fort Collins, instead believing that Fort Collins is a quiet and

conservative town.

Wayne Sundberg, a Fort Collins historian and past affiliate with

CSU’s history department, believes Fort Collins has had no real

outbursts except in the last few years, with the exception of the

“Old Main” burning.

“This was a very sleepy agricultural town,” Sundberg said. He

said college students have recently made occasional disturbances in

the community.

“We have had occasional demonstrations in the past, but

peacefully protested,” Sundberg said.

Sundberg, a Fort Collins resident since 1966, said the outbursts

over the past years are due to today’s culture and the

record-breaking student population.

CSU students returned to class Monday. Early estimates from the

university point out that this school season may be the enrollment

record, surpassing last year’s of 25,042 students.

“I think the kids are away from home and have not been taught

proper behavior,” said Sundberg, who lives a few blocks away from

the second melee Saturday night on Bluebell Street.

Seeing riot activity himself in the 1960s war era, Ernie Chavez,

chair of CSU’s psychology department, said he is seeing it all over

again now.

Chavez said riots are a “contagious process,” especially in

campus communities where there is perfect recipe for a riot to

occur: Large groups of people mixed with large amounts of alcohol

is a “formula for a bad situation,” he said.

“The more anonymity there is, the higher the probability of

something inappropriate happening,” Chavez said.

Chaffee’s main purpose is to keep the students and staff on

campus safe, he said.

“It is the code of the West: We all have to be responsible for

what we do. As much as people do not want to hear it, it is the

truth,” Chaffee said.

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