What The Heck is Going on at Keene State?

Heard about the riots in Keene? Here’s a quick explanation of what’s been going on in the normally sleepy New Hampshire city:

What is Pumpkin Fest?

The Keene Pumpkin Festival was first launched by a private non-profit group in 1991 as a showcase of 600 lit jack-o’-lanterns in the city’s downtown.

By 2013, that number jumped to over 30,000 — breaking a world record — and the festival now includes all kinds of family-friendly activities for tens of thousands of attendees. That increased popularity has, naturally, caused some headaches for organizers and city officials, while becoming an attractive event for partying college students.

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Was this riot on the Keene State campus?

Yes and no: student parties got rowdy Friday night, and the chaos really started to escalate after a large outdoor party on-campus Saturday afternoon, when police received reports of injuries from thrown bottles and other debris.

The crowds also moved throughout the city, and both on and off-campus property was damaged in the chaos.

What kind of damage was there?

There were no official estimates available Sunday night, but fires, flipped cars, slashed tires, thrown projectiles and assaults were reported all over the city this weekend.

How many people were injured?

Keene Police said 26 students were treated for injuries, but none were hospitalized.

Yikes. How many were arrested?

Final arrest numbers weren’t immediately available Sunday night, but the Associated Press reported that at least 49 people were arrested, with the department receiving 235 calls for service over the weekend.

So…what’s wrong with kids at Keene State?

While there were definitely some troublemakers (and outright criminals) in the crowd, there were tons of students cleaning up the city Sunday morning. Also, keep in mind many partiers come from out of town for the annual event.

“We all recognize that we made a mistake and we’re going to be better next year,’’ sophomore Mallory Pearce told WBZ. “We’re not going to let this happen again.’’

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Is this the first time there’s been trouble during Pumpkin Fest?

Definitely not — while the extent of Saturday’s riots were new, the city has struggled with crowd control issues related to the event for years. A handful of minor arrests in 2001 grew to “widespread public drunkenness’’ and “dozens of arrests’’ in 2011, according to the Keene Sentinel.

What’s all this talk about police militarization?

Keene’s police department was lampooned on both the Colbert Report (starts at 2:10) and Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver (starts at 7:18) after citing the town’s annual Pumpkin Fest as one reason it needed a surplus $286,000 armored vehicle from the Pentagon.

In this case, police did not use the BearCat armored vehicle, but did employ dogs, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber pellets, to disperse crowds in Keene. While all the facts continue to come out, the police response is bound to get attention in the wake of a national debate on the militarization of police post-Ferguson.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated police used an armored vehicle while trying to disperse crowds during the riot. In fact, police did not use the vehicle.

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