State College

Town-gown discussion focuses on riot prevention

Penn State students gathered on Beaver Avenue after the Nittany Lion’s Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin on Dec. 3, 2016.
Penn State students gathered on Beaver Avenue after the Nittany Lion’s Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin on Dec. 3, 2016. Centre Daily Times, file

About 50 people gathered Thursday for a town-and-gown discussion on riot prevention at the State College Municipal Building.

It was facilitated by Penn State freshmen in the Schreyer Honors College enrolled in a yearlong course called Rhetoric and Civic Life.

The students offered a history of rioting at Penn State — from the Arts Fest riot in 1998 that resulted in about $150,000 in damage and 16 injured police officers to riots this past fall when Penn State’s football team upset Ohio State and after the Nittany Lions clinched the Big Ten title.

Penn State claimed the Big Ten title, and fans took to the streets for the second time this season. Some fans and students described why they're participating in the rallies in downtown State College and expressed their enthusiasm for Penn State f

The talk had three main points of discussion: education and community, law enforcement and university policy.

A prescribed course addressing rioting and mandated community service in order to graduate were two possibilities the students brought to the table for discussion.

Community service should have a purpose, Mayor Elizabeth Goreham said.

Like “restorative justice” — if someone destroys something, he or she should have to face the homeowner and fix it, she said.

That could be a “powerful experience,” Goreham said.

Lynn Rosenberg, of Ferguson Township, said becoming involved in a riot is a choice.

“I love living in a college town, but I’m over this ...,” she said.

The facilitators asked the group for their thoughts on what methods police should use, suggesting that Tasers, water cannons and skunk — a nonlethal malodorant — might be more effective for controlling riots than tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.

Tom King, assistant borough manager and former police chief, said State College police do not use tear gas or rubber bullets to quell riots.

He added that police would not turn a firetruck hose on people, either.

A pepper ball gun was used in the last riot, police Chief John Gardner said.

In addition, Gardner said Tasers are only used in one-on-one situations where officers feel threatened, and they wouldn’t be used in a crowded situation.

A possibility that was brought up several times throughout the discussion was to have some sort of organized event after home football games that would help students release their energy in a healthy, nondestructive way.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz