The Times West Virginian

October 21, 2012

Readers: Motown will never control Sunnyside

Times West Virginian

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it

But when we are gone

Will it still burn on, and on, and on, and on

— Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” 1989

So the story goes that Billy Joel was having a heated conversation with a person half his age in the late 1980s. The young man was complaining about how messed up the world was. Joel responded with “I thought the same thing when I was your age.” His counterpart fired back with “but you grew up in the 1950s. Nothing happened back then.”

 “Wait a minute, didn’t you hear of Korea, the Hungarian freedom fighters or the Suez Crisis?” And so the song practically wrote itself.

The first couch burnt in Morgantown didn’t happen in the early morning hours of Oct. 7 following West Virginia University’s win over Texas. Nope. That fire’s been burning since the world’s been turning.

Do you remember the 2003 fall football season? Do you remember the violence that erupted at Mountaineer Field after a victory over Virginia Tech when students pulled down the goal post and State Police started macing the crowd for control?

There’s this one image that I have stuck in my mind from a front-page picture in a local newspaper from the aftermath of that victory over Virginia Tech. The boot of an officer is stepping on the side of the head of a student who has been maced, and he is grimacing in pain from the pressure and burning of the eyes.

I don’t know what the kid was doing, and I’m pretty sure the trooper was responding to an out-of-control mob in the way he was trained. I’ve never judged either side — the face or the boot. It always made me feel so so that it had to come to that.

I was also in Sunnyside that night — not partying, but covering the post-game mayhem. I had a partner, but we split up to do interviews. Several minutes into it, when I realized I was the only sober person standing in the middle of a drunk mob and one such drunk person started questioning whether I was a “narc” because I was scribbling notes on a little pad, I was afraid. No, I panicked. I jotted down a few more things and then radioed my partner that I was heading back to my car.

Why? Because I’ve read enough stories and have seen enough movies to know what happens when a mob takes over. Individuals lose their own sense of values and behave as one unit. It’s called the “mob mentality” and I felt it nine years ago in Sunnyside.

And reading reports after this year’s Oct. 6 game made me remember how frightening it was to be in Sunnyside that night. Again, I was sad that it had to come to this. But, quite frankly, I was angry that emergency responders were attacked. I was angry that four responders had to be treated at the hospital after being hit by thrown debris. I was angry students were throwing bottles, bricks and lit firecrackers at firefighters trying to put out the 40-plus fires.

Lit firecrackers? Are you kidding me?

How long will it be before all of Sunnyside goes up in flames, because I’m pretty sure the code compliance in housing there is either sub par or barely passing with clever use of duct tape and rebar. How long will it be before an officer or firefighter is seriously injured? How long will it be before someone is shot or killed?

So the university is cracking down hard on student violators — as they should. And city officials have made cryptic threats about heavy-handed response to anyone who gets out of control during post-game celebrations.

The question is will it put out the fire or will it burn on and on and on and on.

So we asked that question of our readers who log on each week to to vote in our weekly online poll question. We asked “Do you believe crowd control will continue to be an issue this football season after more than 40 fires and riotous behavior following WVU’s win over Texas?”

And here’s what you had to say:

• No — Threats from the schools administration and city officials will keep the students on their best behavior for a while —10.81 percent.

• Maybe — There are going to be even larger crowds as the “curious” are drawn to the student neighborhood postgame — 17.57 percent.

• Yes — Firefighters and police officers are never going to be able to tame Sunnyside— 71.62 percent.

And that’s sad.

This week, let’s talk about another sad Morgantown event. A student athletic trainer tweeted an obviously racist message about the presidential election, which has created quite the buzz about freedom of speech and social media for employees of the public sector. What are your thoughts on the issue?

Log on. Vote. Email me or respond directly online.

Misty Poe

Managing Editor