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Thursday, December 13,2001

Areas on to riot

Boulder cops go too far again

The children were nestled all snug in their beds. Then the cops broke out tear gas canisters, showing all the restraint of teen-agers with cheap fireworks on the Fourth of July. The children woke up coughing, gagging, crying and scared, while police dispersed the latest student party on University Hill.

"The students were having this big party, and then the police came and blew it up," says Crosby Chipman, who lives on the Hill. "My eyes and my nose and my throat hurt. I had to put a rag on my eyes and on my nose."

So what did members of the Boulder City Council do in response? They lauded the police Tuesday night, taking turns thanking them for such a fine job of dispersing the latest bonfire-turned-"riot." Council members were practically on their knees, kissing the ring of Police Chief Mark Beckner, whose department-for the eighth time in four years-unleashed toxic tear gas on a neighborhood for lack of any ability to peacefully diffuse a student celebration.

Earth to City Council: Your police department, once again, assaulted University Hill with tear gas, dispensed so liberally and carelessly that innocent children woke up choking. They again shot rubber bullets at students, some of whom did nothing but walk upon a disturbance. The police showed once again that they have no finesse for bringing peace to University Hill, and for this you give praise.

Nobody deserves kudos in the wake of Sunday morning's raucous party. University Hill residents are embroiled in an escalating cultural schism that's only getting worse. Heavy-handed efforts to arrest, control and over-regulate students have only backfired, leading to more fires, more violence and more tear gas. Eventually, someone will die.

Yet Boulder City Council wants more of the same, apparently expecting a different result. Councilwoman Francoise Poinsatte wants to make sure police review photos and tapes of the "riots," so they can make more arrests. Councilman Gordon Riggle wants the city to pressure the University of Colorado to take action against students who participated in the "riots." The clear message of the Council was this: Good job, now make more arrests, and cause more legal trouble for students.

This column has in past addressed the bizarre phenomenon of people who move to University Hill, pay too much for their property, and then take out their anxiety by waging war against student renters. The stressed-out, angry new homeowners are lawyers, realtors and civil engineers-people in suits whom cops view as "law-abiding citizens."

Often, these model citizens break the law. They formed a cult-like organization, known as the University Hill Neighborhood Association, headed by Denver University Law Professor Tom Russell. Members of the group, including Russell, have been known to trespass on the property of students and even barge into their homes in order to spy on them and turn them into police with allegations of over-occupancy and under-age drinking. Cult members have threatened residents of the neighborhood, in writing, for not supporting the organization's anti-student agenda. City Council members have seen these threats and done nothing.

Students and their landlords have tried desperately to put an end to the unlawful and predatory snooping and spying. They've appeared before the Boulder City Council, only to have the Council agree to no longer listen to allegations from the podium against citizens such as Russell.

Alex McKee called police three weeks ago after seeing Russell wander around his property, push open his front door and enter the home. Instead of arresting Russell, police showed up and interrogated McKee and his roommates in an effort to find evidence that someone in the household might be breaking a law. To date, nobody from the police department has charged Russell with trespassing or unlawful entry. Nobody has even bothered to question McKee about his formal complaint against Russell. Police spokeswoman Jennifer Bray says Russell remains under investigation.

Shelly Kneipp, a Hill landlord, has spent weekend nights on the Hill in recent months to see for herself what's going on. Recently she saw a member of the University Hill Neighborhood Association chasing students down the street. She went to the police department's University Hill annex to report what she saw and spoke with Sergeant Kimberly Stewart.

"Sergeant Stewart was aware that this man was chasing students, and she said he was in pursuit of them in order to make them apologize to police for throwing rocks at a car," Kneipp says. Stewart was out of town, unavailable for comment.

Kneipp was at the so-called "riots" Sunday, following CU's win in the Big 12 football championship. And she saw something I saw later on videotape-the tear-gassing of four students walking peacefully up 10th Street after all was quiet and calm. (Want to see it? Go to www.boulderweekly.com for streaming video. Watch the tear gas canister that rolls under a car).

"I walked up to an officer and said 'What are you doing? Those are just four kids minding their own business.' He said 'I didn't do it,' and looked at the other cop," Kneipp says. "So I asked the other officer, and he said 'You need to go home now, we're busy.' I said 'There's a girl who's sick and choking, and she was just walking along the street doing nothing wrong.' He said 'You need to go home.' I said I wanted an explanation first, so he held up his billy club and said, 'You'd better go home now.' He meant business."

University Hill is a war zone for students and those who wish to raise their property values by ridding the neighborhood of youthful renters. The latter are intolerant people who hate their neighbors, yet police and City Council members have sided with them. Understandably, the students are pissed. No wonder they get unruly when trying to unwind.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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