We’re all a bit jaded and we’ve evolved to become slightly cynical as the behavior bar we set for others continues its downward trek. Still, is it asking too much to have a few hours in the evening six times a year to feel good about ourselves and enjoy a downtown that we once embraced as the pulse of a thriving city?
I took in last week’s Third Thursday, and it was a beautiful evening and blend of people that ended with the temperatures cooling and tempers rising. Resting on one of the Dunham Mall benches, I watched the city pass by looking more than content on what was an engergized North Street. Some had their children in tow and this was no doubt an attempt to pass down to them a piece of life that mom and dad had once known on those classic North Street Thursday nights of years ago.
Later, while kicking back at Cim’s Tavern, a police car sped up Fenn Street with lights flashing and siren blaring. It was a little after 8 p.m., and I knew in my heart it was Third Thursday related. I wanted to be wrong, but I wasn’t. A melee of sorts had broken out on the corner of Melville and North streets.
The two Pittsfield policemen on bicycles who came upon the scene initially called for backup. More arrests, the police say, would have been made if help had arrived sooner. There were reports of kids jumping on the backs of the police during the height of the fracas. Can you imagine that? It’s situations like this that put you one small moment away from becoming the lead story on CNN. If that report is accurate, then police obviously showed great restraint while some of our younger folks showed just how unclear a child’s judgment can be. Jump on a cop? Not in my wildest dreams would that have ever crossed my mind.
So now the police presence will be increased for subsequent Third Thursdays. It’s too bad it has come to that. I’m sure the young hoodlums involved thought the whole thing was a hoot. Someone I know said she had been verbally harassed earlier in the evening by youths on bicycles while walking from the Burger King parking lot to North Street. I’m sure those kids thought they were funny, too.
A couple more Third Thursdays like this and Mayor Bianchi might want to consider scrapping the street event entirely. Who would blame him? But it would be a shame, especially because I hate giving in to such an inferior and mindless foe.
Being part of an unruly crowd is something few of us have ever experienced. An outright mob scene or a "riot" is something fewer of us can talk about firsthand. Obviously it’s something that can’t really be emulated at the police academy, and I’m curious about how an officer is trained in advance of these situations. I guess until you’ve been in your first one, it’s all books, speeches and videos.
I don’t attend South American soccer matches and I don’t live in big cities like Detroit or Montreal where winning a professional sports crown like the World Series or Stanley Cup requires the citizenry to disassemble the city brick by brick. Or, in the case of Vancouver last spring, tear the town down after a loss in the Stanley Cup Finals.
I guess the closest thing I’ve experienced are some intense/emotional sporting events. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in the late 1970s was fierce, and New York police would patrol the upper deck at the old stadium when those teams met in some sort of a conga line, simply waiting for the next fan skirmish. They would roll in, bop everyone over the head with their wooden clubs, take the fans away and wait for the next fight, which usually would happen within a minute.
It’s why the Yankees never held Bat Day with the Red Sox in town.
Some of the games between the old Hartford Whalers and Boston Bruins were heated affairs in the respective arenas of both cities. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I felt my life or safety was being seriously threatened.
And trust me, it’s not on my bucket list.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.