Mar 19, 2021 | NEWS | By Avery Colborn | Photo courtesy of Clifford Grassmick from The Boulder Daily Camera
What began as a typical Saturday at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) ended in rioting and violence, as Boulder police, SWAT officers and firefighters responded to a party of an estimated 500-800 people, most unmasked.
The event began on Saturday, March 6, when multiple, relatively smaller parties combined into one large crowd near Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th Street, an area referred to by the CU Boulder community as “The Hill.”
As the event progressed, Boulder police and first responders arrived to disperse the crowd. According to a police report of the event, several police and SWAT officers faced minor injuries after being hit with rocks, bricks and bottles. The report also stated that several vehicles, including those of residents as well as an armored rescue vehicle and a firetruck, were heavily damaged.
The crowd was fully dispersed by about 9 p.m. that night, after police deployed a canister of tear gas and two canisters of smoke.
“Personally, I think that this is a large display of disrespect,” CU Boulder sophomore Gretchen Schooleman said. “There was absolutely riot-like behavior with the use of violence and destruction of property. Participating in a large party that clearly violates the public guidelines makes a statement to the community.”
Throughout the event, two alerts were sent out informing students that police were responding to the situation and to avoid the area, and that anyone participating in the event would be subject to arrest and CU Boulder sanctions.
The following day, Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano released a statement to the student body condemning the event and stating that those involved in organizing and violent acts would be prosecuted accordingly. DiStefano said that the event “embarrassed … the entire University of Colorado Boulder” and “violated university and community standards at every level.”
In an additional statement, the CU Boulder administration stated that they are conducting a collaborative investigation with the Boulder Police Department to identify and arrest any students who participated in criminal acts. If identified and charged, these students will face expulsion without the possibility of readmission.
“I respect [the administration’s disciplinary] decision because it reflects that this behavior is not tolerated by CU,” Schooleman said. “Absolutely, consequences should occur to those who used violence in this situation.”
Since the beginning of this academic year, the city of Boulder and the university have been grappling with how to bring back such a large student body while preventing the spread of COVID-19.
In September, the city issued a public health order for all residents 18-22 years old to halt all gatherings in an effort to reduce the number of new infections. This age group made up 71% of virus cases in Boulder at the time.
While there is large potential for this recent incident to turn into a super-spreader event, and all who attended are being encouraged to quarantine, some CU Boulder students believe it should not be judged so harshly.
“I certainly understand the problems with what happened and how it is very disrespectful and unsafe during a pandemic, but I think the notion that this was an intended riot is untrue, and while it’s bad, it was a very happy day until it got out of hand,” a current sophomore at CU Boulder who wished to remain anonymous said. “I think there is a lot of blame placed on students when cops and the school clearly knew about the party and its size for hours [before] doing anything. I just think the problems came from a very small group of students who … chose to act in a very unbecoming way.”
On the other hand, some students are angered and disappointed at members of the student body who participated.
“There are serious consequences to large crowds that go beyond having a good time,” Schooleman said. “This behavior makes me question how America will ever reach a post-pandemic state.”
Through social media posts and over 1,000 tips submitted to Boulder Police Department, six people have been arrested in connection to participation in criminal and/or violent activities that took place during the riot. A team of 15 investigators is still accepting information to identify more connections to the event and place charges where appropriate.
In an additional statement to the CU and Boulder community, DiStefano urged students to continue adhering to COVID-19 guidelines.
“I am thankful for all of you who continue to follow public health orders, set an example of what it means to be a Buff,” he concluded. “Take precautions, do what is right and stand up for our values.”