TPD should own up to March melee mistakes
Sgt. Joel Mann approaches a crowd of onlookers, nearly a block away from unruly crowds on University Boulevard. “Get off the sidewalk!” Mann shouts as he shoves a woman from behind with his baton and pushes the man with her to the ground. As they attempt to leave the commotion, he continues to shove them onto the ground, shouting, “Move!” repeatedly.
This video of a Tucson Police Department officer during the clash between police officers and students after the Elite Eight men’s basketball game attracted less attention than another viral video, captured on cell phone, showing the same officer shoving a woman over a bench.
But TPD chief of police Roberto Villaseñor doesn’t want us to focus on that. Instead, the TPD Board of Inquiry’s findings released on June 30 praises the reactions of TPD officers to what they call “unprecedented” crowd behavior during the incident on March 29, despite being deployed before any crowd had gathered. Villaseñor faults the media for giving “excessive coverage” of the actions of Mann, whose case is being reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for potential violations of civil rights.
TPD’s inquiry into the incident praises officers’ “self-restraint, professionalism, leadership and dedication throughout the evening in their dealings with a hostile and antagonizing crowd.” While numerous individual officers did their jobs well, TPD’s overall strategy and plans used that night should give it reason to reevaluate its policies rather than pat itself on the back. The excessive number of police upset the crowd, despite plans to promote positive officer presence. Even the TPD report admits that its tactic of motorcycles circling the area further antagonized the crowd. The oversaturated police presence surrounding the scene likely slowed the crowd from being able to disperse instead of causing people to leave the area more quickly.
Villaseñor referred to fans as “rioters.” The behavior of these students, while deemed an “unlawful assembly,” was not a riot, unlike the 2001 incident following the UA’s loss in the men’s basketball national championship game, where crowds on Fourth Avenue destroyed cars and vandalized property. This past March, TPD tried to use tactics similar to those it used on actual rioters in 2001 on a group of rowdy, disappointed basketball fans. As a result, instead of a peaceful resolution, a melee occurred that made international news and garnered negative publicity to the City of Tucson and TPD.
A more independent inquiry should be made into the Elite Eight clash, consisting of experts outside of TPD and Tucson city government. That report would hopefully provide an unbiased perspective that consults UA administrators, members of other law enforcement agencies, experts in police tactics and members of the student community.
Although these voices were not present in the investigation into the events, people have not been silent about TPD’s actions. Following the melee, fans and news outlets on social media were critical of TPD’s tactics during the incident. While its inquiry into the events could have been a chance to make amends with the UA community, which now views it in a less sympathetic light, TPD instead failed to take full responsibility for its mistakes made that night.
We can be optimistic about the Wildcats’ return to March Madness next season, but given TPD’s evasive response to this year’s incident, our hopes that TPD interaction with the UA community will improve looks discouraging.
Editorials are determined by the Arizona Summer Wildcat editorial board and written by its members. They are Ethan McSweeney, Logan Rogers and Mia Moran. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyWildcat