Riots on the Strip result in more than 100 arrests during holiday weekend

By Gus Bode

A neat mound of shattered glass rested in front of Becky Butler’s feet as she leaned on her broom and watched her husband secure Plexiglas panels over their shop’s windows.

Outside, she could see policemen walking past the charred remains of costumes on South Illinois Avenue with cans of Mace in their hands.

Their shop, Jimmy Johns, 519 S. Illinois Ave., became the hub of two of the three riots that plagued Carbondale’s Strip after the bars let out during fall break.

Advertisement

This Halloween marked the first time Carbondale bars were left open for the holiday in five years. Coupled with SIUC’s fall break, the restrictions were intended to end the city’s almost annual Halloween riots. A 3-2 Carbondale City Council vote removed the restrictions in March for Halloween.

After 2 a.m. Saturday, people poured out onto the street. The crowd gathered in front of the neighboring restaurant, La Bamba, quickly tearing down its lighted sign. Meanwhile, several men swayed violently in a mid-sized tree along the sidewalk.

The growing crowd then turned its attention to Jimmy Johns. Becky’s husband, Ken, forced himself between the windows and encroaching revelers. The crowd began to throw rocks, cheering as the stones smashed through Jimmy Johns’ sign. Ken wrestled one man in the crowd to the ground. The rocks kept coming.

If I park my car by a yellow curb, there is a cop there. I’ve broken the law and they are there in seconds, she said. But you can set something on fire and throw things and you’re OK it isn’t like that anywhere else but here.

The fires began early Sunday morning. Although Saturday morning’s crowd of about 800 dispersed on their own without further incident, more returned after the bars closed that night.

At about 2,500 people, the crowd was far more aggressive than it had been the night before.

What began as cheering soon turned into chants of Fight! Fight! Fight! encouraging several clashes within the crowd. What began as women climbing on men’s shoulders and flashing the crowd turned to a few women forced above the crowd and groped from below. What began as thumping on Jimmy Johns’ windows turned to hurling one to three-pound rocks through the windows, eventually breaking four of them.

Advertisement

Firecrackers were set off and articles of clothing were ignited in small bonfires. Police and shopkeepers watched as the crowd grew more daring.

Bryan Coxx, a sophomore at John A. Logan, danced around a fire, picking up flaming clothing and spinning it through the air. Coxx said the media coverage of Carbondale’s Halloween past is responsible for chaos on the Strip that, and alcohol.

People read about it, saw it on the news and came out to see it, he said. I’m drunk and bored, and there is nothing else going on.

The mob became steadily more destructive, intermittently chanting S-I-U along the way. One group smashed and attempted to burn a parking meter as another planned to rush Old Town Liquors, 514 S. Illinois Ave. A third group tossed flaming garments into a tree until the small limbs began to catch fire.

The police began to grip cans of Mace at their hips. A rioter threw a beer bottle at one officer. The police ordered the crowd to disperse and unleashed the spray.

Most of the crowd dispersed immediately. Some individuals resisted and were arrested.

The weekend arrests tied to Halloween total 108. Half a dozen businesses were vandalized, most of which sustained shattered windows.

Councilman Larry Briggs said the police showed admirable control in the riots.

I’m proud of the police, he said. They restrained themselves as much as they could until they got hit.

The last time Carbondale encountered Halloween riots in 1996, many blamed the police force for elevating the situation. The force appeared in full riot gear and used tear gas to disperse crowds.

Councilman Brad Cole agreed that it wouldn’t have been appropriate for the police to react any earlier than they did.

You can’t send two officers into a crowd of 2,000, he said. It’s just not safe.

The SIU police and state police deferred all comments regarding procedures used in the Halloween riots to the Carbondale Police Department. Carbondale police chiefs have yet to return Daily Egyptian phone calls.

Carbondale’s Halloween nightmare came to a chaotic close early Wednesday morning as tear gas dispersed an out-of-control mob from the Strip.

After a two-day reprieve from the riots that wrought destruction on South Illinois Avenue Friday and Saturday nights, many predicted a milder, more lawful Halloween night.

But the Carbondale Police Department had prepared for the worst scenario, enlisting the assistance of the Illinois State Police in case the crowds became violent again.

As a crowd of about 2,000 poured out of the bars at 2 a.m. Wednesday, the mood was still festive and the tone of Strip was social. But it wasn’t long before the surging crowds broke into brawls.

Within half an hour, the disorder gave way to a standoff between Carbondale police and rioters. The crowd soon enveloped a small core of police officers, who then responded with Mace.

The chemical spray had little effect on the rioters, and the police were pelted with trash, bottles and rocks.

Then the state police drove into the crowd to join the Carbondale police. After police threw a few canisters of benign smoke to disperse the rioters, canisters of tear gas were launched into the crowd. A man in the crowd retrieved a smoking tear gas canister and threw it back at the police.

Trails of sparks and loud pops filled the air as the police pursued the retreating crowd with dozens of tear gas canisters. A cloud hung on the windless Strip, sending some rioters to their knees and others covered their faces and attempted to flee.

Jessica Loesch was ripped from sleep when tear gas filled her apartment, which is located over Sam’s Cafe, 521 S. Illinois Ave. She had a Halloween party earlier that night but fell asleep before the police began to disperse the crowd.

“I wake up and I’m crying in pain,” she said about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, her eyes still bloodshot and tearing. “I had to run out of my house to breathe.”

Most of the crowd dispersed, but one group of rioters marched down to East Grand Street and turned left. Police followed, launching tear gas on the way.

The rioters attacked signs, discovering the Interfaith Center’s sign was too sturdy to damage, and settling for the sign in front of the Recreation Center. That group, like the others, soon dwindled down to a few and dispersed.

Hours before the sun was to come up Wednesday morning, Becky and Kenny stood outside their store. Despite may revelers’ complaints that the police used too much force, Ken said it was justified.

They had to do it, he said. If they did it before, none of this would have happened.

At press time, police reported only 15 additional Strip-related arrests to the 108 from the weekend. That number is expected to increase, however, as the Carbondale Police Department has not finished categorizing all arrests.

SIUC Housing estimates only 10 percent of on-campus residents remained in town during fall break, based on the activity in Food Services.

Larry Dietz, vice chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, was on the Strip watching most of the rioting to show support for the city. He said the shocking display will hurt SIUC and Carbondale, but people should remember the crowds were a minuscule percentage of the 22,500 student that attend SIUC.

I hope that our future will be a calmer one and I hope that people will remember that we have a strong academic program and serious students, he said. This is only a handful (of SIUC students).

Advertisement