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Parties related to a local festival turned dangerous on Saturday when unruly guests, some of which students of Keene State College, became violent, resulting in dozens of arrests and injuries.
The parties surrounded the annual Pumpkin Festival in Keene, New Hampshire, an event that inspires local pride each year as large crowds from throughout New England gather to celebrate autumn and try to set the world record for the most carved pumpkins in one location. According to witnesses, off-campus parties in multiple locations around Keene State College with attendance in the thousands became out of hand when intoxicated attendees started defacing public property and throwing “everything they could find—rocks, skateboards, buckets, pumpkins.” The local police were alerted and, when the partiers began assaulting the officers and refused to cooperate, they shot pellet guns and threw tear gas into the crowds.
“There were about 4,000 kids in this backyard, and it almost felt like a war zone,” Ellery Murray, a sophomore at Keene State, said.
The rioting began Saturday afternoon and, after subsiding for a few hours, started back up again around 10 pm. Though city officials say the situation was handled in a necessary manner, bystanders argue that the police were too forceful. “I think the pepper spray was a little much – rubber bullets were a little much,” one witness said.
Other students said they felt unsafe during the riots. This contributes to the current national conversation surrounding the trend of excessive police force in places like Ferguson, Missouri, although observers note the drastic differences in how each event started and has been portrayed by the media.
Anne Huot, President of Keene State College, issued a statement following the events that acknowledged the college’s role in the rioting, saying that “We are mindful that Keene State students played a part in this behavior and we intend to hold those individuals accountable for their actions."
While Keene State did not offer up any concrete solutions at this time, Huot continued, “This is an issue that we can only solve together and we, at Keene State College, are eager to renew in earnest the conversation that leads to meaningful change.”
Other members of the Keene State community are trying to enact this change. Students and faculty who are embarrassed with the reputation their school is receiving from this weekend’s events are making an effort to clean up the mess around the chaotic Pumpkin Festival. One student reiterated that “this is not what Keene State is about” and that the school is a great place to be, despite what the riots have shown.