Boston mayor backs off threat to ban alcohol

10/22/2004 - Boston Red Sox

BOSTON -- The death of a college student from a
pepper-spray-filled projectile sparked anger and questions Friday
about whether police used too much force to break up rowdy Red Sox
revelers outside Fenway Park.

The mayor said more police will be at neighborhood bars during
the upcoming World Series to make sure fans do not get too drunk or
rowdy, but he backed off his threat to ban alcohol in the area
during the games.

Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole said police are considering
discontinuing the use of the weaponry that killed Victoria
Snelgrove as officers tried to contain an estimated 80,000 fans who
poured into the area after the Red Sox's victory on Wednesday at Yankee
Stadium in New York.

O'Toole said the officers showed "great restraint" but had to
fire the projectiles after a few revelers set small fires and threw
bottles at police and vandalized property, endangering others.
Snelgrove, a 21-year-old Emerson College student, was hit in the
eye and died hours later.

The plastic balls of pepper spray, which are propelled from
devices similar to paintball guns, are meant to prevent serious
injury as police agencies try to control large groups.

"We want to use the least force necessary in order to maintain
the crowd," O'Toole said. "Very unfortunately, it resulted in a
horrible action."

Mayor Thomas Menino decided against invoking a rarely used state
law to ban the sale of alcohol "in cases of riot or great public
excitement" after meeting with about two dozen bar and restaurant
owners Friday.

Instead, the city and bar owners agreed to limit the number of
people lining up to get inside Fenway-area clubs and to prevent
live television coverage inside the bars so that patrons do not get
rambunctious as they play to the cameras.

Fifteen people, including a police officer, suffered minor
injuries in the game's aftermath, and Boston police reported eight
arrests, mostly for disorderly conduct.

Several people who were near the area where Snelgrove was shot
said the crowd seemed under control when the pepper-spray balls
were fired.

Doug Conroy, 33, of Portland, Maine, said he and several other
people had climbed the rafters of Fenway's famed Green Monster when
police began to order them back down. He said he saw an officer in
riot gear shoot something into the crowd below him.

He said he heard a woman scream, then heard sobbing. "A lot of
people then looked over and saw her lying awkwardly on the sidewalk
and blood coming out of her nose. She wasn't moving and we were
just hoping she was just unconscious," Conroy said.

He called the police action "an egregious overreaction."

"There was nothing violent going on. It was all celebration,"
he said.

Giovanni De Francisci, a 30-year-old Emerson student, said he
was about 10 feet behind police officers as shots were fired in
Snelgrove's direction.

He said nobody was climbing or causing damage in Snelgrove's
immediate area around the time she was shot.

"It was not at all necessary to disperse that crowd. If you
want to disperse a crowd, why not disperse the crowd that is
overturning cars?" he asked.

Boston police bought the projectile weaponry for crowd control
during this summer's Democratic National Convention, but did not
use it then because protests remained relatively subdued.

Snelgrove's death was the second in Boston this year during
rowdy celebrations of sports victories. Police were caught
understaffed when riots broke out after the New England Patriots'
Super Bowl victory on Feb. 1. One person was killed and another critically
injured when a vehicle plowed into revelers.

Melvin L. Tucker, a security consultant who specializes in the
use of force by police, said "less-than-lethal" weaponry has
become increasingly popular among police departments around the
country over the past five years as a replacement for nightsticks,
tear gas and other such tactics.

"This is generally a lot safer. It's a real tragedy," said
Tucker, the former police chief of Tallahassee, Fla., and
Asheville, N.C.