Mixed reactions to Homecoming policing

More than a week after Homecoming, the causes and consequences of the events on Aberdeen Street on Saturday night remain a hot topic among students and alumni.

Over the past week, the Journal has received more than 30 letters from students and alumni commenting on what took place.

Some students said that while the actions of people on Aberdeen were inexcusable, these actions seemed to be exacerbated in part by the overall atmosphere and the police presence. A Journal reporter who covered the event also interviewed several students that night who said they felt ill at ease on Aberdeen.

Alex Loubert, ArtSci ’07 and an Aberdeen resident, said he and his six housemates spent most of Homecoming keeping party-goers out of their house.

“We didn’t want to go out there—we could hear the bottles [breaking],” he said.

Loubert said he thinks the actions of students were unjustifiable, but he believes much of the tension was caused by police actions.

“[The situation was] definitely hooliganism bordering on riotism,” he said. “If [students] had just taken the street and partied all night, that would have been a victory. But [Aberdeen] wasn’t. It was a defeat.”

Loubert added that he was on Aberdeen all day and observed that atmosphere.

“The cops were just being way needlessly violent,” he said “[Their attitude was] ‘You want to play rough, we’re going to play rough too.’ ”

Loubert also said he was disappointed with the University administration for not speaking up for students who weren’t directly responsible for the evening’s problems.

“There is a sense of students feeling betrayed,” he said.

Ross Jamieson, ArtSci ’07, said he thought the Aberdeen party was not as fun as in previous years.

“The police presence definitely made a difference in that,” he said. “Because [the police] were … taking initiative in an offensive way, it was hard to feel like you could be relaxed,” he said.

“[This was] taking away from what Aberdeen is supposed to be,” he said. “[It’s] a place where you can hang out without worrying about being hassled for just anything.”

Jamieson said he thought that this year the police were confronting people for more minor offences than in years past.

“In years before, they kind of turned a blind eye to open alcohol because there are bigger problems to worry about,” he said. “This year they seemed to be giving out tickets for, like, everything.”

But not all the police had that mindset, Jamieson added.

“Some of them were more relaxed,” he said.

He added that he was confronted “a couple of times” by the police.

“I was walking on the street before everyone had rushed on there, around 10:15 p.m., and I was just going to my house, and an officer shoved me onto the sidewalk and said, ‘Get off the road,’” Jamieson said. “I walked farther and there were the mounted officers, and … it seemed to me that [the horse] was charging at me, almost.

“I was sober, and I still found that scary.”

Jamieson said he believes some of the police who acted defensively may have created more problems.

“If they were instead to focus on … ‘OK, the party’s going to happen but we’ll do our best to stop all serious or dangerous behaviour’, [that would be more effective],” he said.

Brent Cousineau, ArtSci ’09, and Angus Campbell, Sci ’09, said they went to Aberdeen for the first time this year to find out what the street party was all about.

“It was pretty crazy, more than I had expected,” Campbell said. “It was good [the police] were there.”

Cousineau agreed.

“I was pretty impressed, [the police] kept it cool,” he said. “I think [the damage] should have been not such a surprise … I mean, you had 5,000 drunk guys on one street.” Ashley Hobbe, ArtSci ’07, who was also on Aberdeen Saturday night, said she didn’t agree with the police presence.

“It’s normally a lot of fun,” she said. “I felt [the police] priorities were wrong. Instead of making it a safe environment, they just tried to stop it—[the police] tried to keep people out instead of keeping people safe.

Hobbe said she thinks the furors over damages is justified.

“I think [the gathering] got out of hand, and I think it’s important … to figure out a way to make it a safe environment, but not stop it completely,” she said. “That’s what happened this year: they tried to stop it and people just rebelled.”

Alex Kelly, ArtSci ’08, said she thinks the high turnout on Aberdeen may have stemmed from a sense of rebelliousness.

“[It] comes a lot from the fact that people say you shouldn’t go,” she said. “So you do.”

PhD Candidate Andrew Stevens said what happened on Aberdeen was in some ways the result of an attitude problem among those who caused the damage.

“Specifically, I have no problems with having the Aberdeen party,” he said. “Having a block party is fine, but the way that … some students have a complete disregard in their attitude to the surrounding area [is a problem].

“There’s something in Queen’s itself that fosters this view,” he added.

Stevens said the whole Queen’s community needs to change the way it relates to the city at large.

“If the city wants to maintain some degree of order … they’re going to have to maintain some sort of [police] presence there,” he said. “I don’t know why people are surprised that the police cracked down on them.” Mike Shanahan, Sci ’99, said what bothers him the most about Aberdeen was that not many students took responsibility for the events that took place.

“Several students that I’ve seen interviewed … haven’t really been willing to accept responsibility,” he said. “I find it hard to blame the police in this situation.”

Philip Lewis, Sci ’07, said he headed over to Aberdeen after he left the Homecoming concert organized by the University.

“Last year was pretty laid back,” he said. “Aberdeen was angry this year.

Lewis said he saw police shoving intoxicated students.

“That does not deserve aggression from the police,” he said. “It was not keeping the peace, it was, ‘We’re doing what we want because we think this is best,’ ” he said.

Lewis said he thought the approach taken by police was inappropriate.

“What they did was the wrong thing to do because they just made everything so much worse,” he said.

Kingston Police Insp. Brian Cookman said the police preparations for this year’s Homecoming began last October.

“We participated in Principal [Karen] Hitchcock’s task force, we worked with the city, we participated in the walkabout last fall to see if there was a role for us, to see if anything was brought forward by people who were there [such as the] mayor, city councillors, things like that,” he said. “We were there to try to make sure that everybody had a safe and enjoyable weekend.”

Cookman said the police force went into the weekend aiming to ensure the public could use the area around the University and to take action on any breaches of law.

“I don’t know why anyone would think we came in with too aggressive a stance,” he said. “We’re not riot-trained.” He said some officers’ uniforms naturally consist of shields and black clothing.

“That’s their uniform. They’re tactical officers,” he said.

Cookman said the purpose of the helmets some officers wore was to allow them to enter the crowd to assist those in need of help, without being in danger of injury from the many bottles being thrown.

Cookman said the use of mounted police on Aberdeen was a natural choice.

“[They were used] because we have mounted police,” he said. “What we were trying to do is to keep the streets passable for everyone, and the horses are as good a means as any. We use the horses all summer long … it’s just part of our gear.”

He added that police horses are trained not to be alarmed easily, but they will startle if treated roughly.

Cookman said these horses often walk in busy traffic.

He also said the police force was not cracking down on keggers any more than usual.

“We try to get around to as many of the illegal keggers as we can,” he said, adding that more keg parties occurred this year. “But again, we’ve only got so many officers going around.” Cookman said police did their best to keep Aberdeen Street safe.

“We tried our best to accomplish our goal, which was to provide a safe Homecoming for everyone, and I would think that the Aberdeen Street situation speaks for itself in that 5,000 to 7,000 people showed up, and some people in that group engaged in outrageous behaviour,” he said.

“We’ve been accused of being too lenient, and we’ve been accused of being too heavy-handed.

“Certainly the police have a role in this, and I think that [role is] going to be determined as this whole Homecoming 2005 is reviewed.”

Cookman said a breakdown of the places of residence of the people who were charged that night hasn’t yet been released.

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