The Boston police mistake that led to the death of a college student after a Boston Red Sox victory was being too quick to resort to high-tech weaponry that wasn’t necessarily designed for controlling large, unruly crowds, writes Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox in the Washington Post. Purchased with federal grant money for July’s Democratic National Convention, the FN 303 pepper ball launcher used that night is the latest advance in “non-lethal” weaponry. Functioning like a machine gun, the weapon discharges projectiles at a high velocity and rate. The FN 303 can be used to overpower a fleeing felon, but carries an explicit warning against shooting at a subject’s face. Ironically, the notion that weaponry is non-lethal can encourage users to be too quick on the trigger, Fox says.
The deadly consequences raised important issues. Were the cops thinking straight? Were they sufficiently trained? Reports have suggested that some officers may not have been schooled in using the weapon. The potential for post-game trouble reflects a nationwide trend involving college towns. In 2002, Ohio State students rioted after the Buckeyes beat rival Michigan for the Big 10 football title. Students at the University of Minnesota flipped cars and ignited bonfires after their hockey team won the 2003 NCAA championship. At the University of Maryland, March Madness turned to March mayhem after Duke eliminated the Terps in the 2001 Final Four. According to a Penn State study of campus disturbances related to sports and other events, the number of such skirmishes has increased four-fold since the mid-1980s.