THE AFTERMATH of the Sept. 11 tragedy has been a tough time, but one full of hope. The nightmare wrought by terrorists turned into a dream come true as the American people came together as one family to help those in need. Malls closed down for blood drives. People donated extra clothes and food. Citizens placed money in countless collection boxes. Even here at the University, virtually every club and organization helped the cause.
But on Sept. 22, Beta Theta Pi's efforts were stifled by the Charlottesville Police in a ridiculous exercise of unnecessary power.
Beta Theta Pi Fraternity was hosting Betafest, a dual fundraiser for the National Children's Burn Fund and families of the victims of the World Trade Center attack. Three bands - Ali with an I, Infectious Organisms and 2 skinnee j's - were scheduled to play from 1-8 p.m. outside the fraternity house. Most of the day went by smoothly. The first two bands performed for roughly 100 students, as most ticket holders were planning to come later in the afternoon to hear the headliners, 2 skinnee j's. Unfortunately, 2 skinnee j's only got through the first four songs of their two-hour set before 12 policemen, four squad cars and a paddy wagon showed up, citing a noise ordinance violation and threatening to arrest students if they didn't leave the property - the private property owned by a fraternity raising funds for a good cause.
There was absolutely no reason for the police to act as they did. The event was a weekend, daytime, private fundraiser. Beta has held outdoor concerts before, and never have police done anything nearly as drastic as what occurred that Saturday.
Beta spent $16,000 on this event. The price included the bands, a professionally constructed stage and hired event staff. Every person in attendance purchased a ticket. The crowd was not spilling out into the street, and no drunken mob was endangering other concertgoers. Beta provided no alcohol for anyone in attendance. The fraternity was planning to sell food and non-alcoholic beverages halfway through the 2 skinnee j's set, but that opportunity never arose. The event was simply a peaceful opportunity for students to make a donation to a good cause while enjoying music on a Saturday afternoon.
But this fundraiser was "too loud." Sgt. Richard Hudson, the officer in charge of shutting the Betafest down, said, "The fraternity did not have a permit required for special events of this kind. They were asked twice to turn the music down, but did not comply." But Tyler Lassiter, president of Beta Theta Pi, said that with each request they did tone the music down. Either way, the police didn't give the fraternity the chance to move the party inside. They simply threatened to round up the crowd as if they were a post-Foxfield mob looking to strike.
Lassiter said the cops that showed up at 6 p.m. "didn't even let us turn the music down again or move the show inside, they immediately started telling people they would start making arrests if they didn't leave the premises." When told about noise complaints from neighbors, fraternity members explained that they were hosting a fundraiser and it would be over by 8 p.m. But the cops wouldn't hear it. They arrested one brother on alcohol charges and sent the crowd home.
Apparently it was more important for Beta's neighbors to take a mid-afternoon nap than for over $10,000 to be donated to charity.
According to Lassiter, a police officer showed up early in the afternoon with two reported complaints and asked that the music be turned down. Lassiter said, "The cop was polite and said that the live music wouldn't be a problem, as long as we turned it down some." So they did, and the cop left satisfied. They had no idea that three hours later a horde of cops would show up as if they had heard gunfire.
Not only did police officers shut down a charity concert before all the bands could play complete sets, they directly prevented the fraternity from donating all the money it could. While many ticket holders already had paid their $10 for charity, hundreds of students were expected to pay $15 at the door to hear the headlining band, as well as purchase food later in the evening. Many fans hadn't even arrived before the cops shut down the fundraiser, so the loss Beta incurred was substantial. The fraternity had planned to donate all profits to the two charities. But because it was shut down by an irrational police force, the fraternity didn't make all its money back on the investment. Even with this financial hit, the fraternity still plans to donate money from its own pocket to the charities. This is a ridiculous price to pay for the complaints of a few neighbors - the majority of which were students who surely had better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than complain about a charity event.
The Charlottesville Police should have allowed the event to run its course. It only had an hour left when they broke it up. No one was drunk and out of control. No one was in the street. Event staff ensured the safety of all concert goers. It wasn't some fraternity party with 10 kegs. It was a fundraiser to provide aid for the tragedy that has affected us all. Maybe the Charlottesville Police will send their squad cars and paddy wagon to a real crime next time, instead of preventing families affected by the recent terrorist attacks from receiving the aid they deserve.
(Brandon Almond is a Cavalier Daily opinion editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)