The revival of the semi-annual block party Cedar Fest turned from a fun gathering to a riot early Sunday morning in a matter of minutes.
Cedar Fest was a semi-annual block party held in Cedar Village during the 1970s-1980s. It was a place where students could get together and celebrate peacefully. The block party started getting hostile in 1983 and after the 1987 celebration, police put an end to the block party.
Over the years there have been many hostile celebrations in Cedar Village including the 1998 Munn Field riot. This riot occurred after the university placed an alcohol ban on Munn Field. Bitter defeats for the men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament have led to three different riots within the past ten years. The worse came in 1999. The riot of 1999 had a crowd of 10,000 that caused $250,000 in damages. The other two riots occurred in 2003 and 2005.
This attempt to revive Cedar Fest had been planned since November 2007 through the networking website of Facebook. Over the course of a few months around 6,000 students said they were planning to attend this event. There were posts from students on the event page that said everyone should party peacefully but there were also some that were demanding a riot just so they could get tear-gassed.
The day of the party came on April 5, 2008, and all seemed calm. The party didn’t seem to begin until 10a.m. At that point students were just drinking, grilling and playing games like frisbee. It was a perfect spring day and students were just having fun interacting with each other. Even by night fall around 8 p.m. students were just relaxing with fellow students and friends, though there were hundreds more people then at the start of the party.
Around campus most all parties start at 10 p.m. and for Cedar Fest that is when the party truly began and hoards of people began showing up. As soon as non-MSU student Patrick Moebs set foot on Cedar Street he gasped, “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever witnessed.” The view he saw was half of the 200 block of Cedar Street covered with people, yelling and singing. Above them were students hanging out their windows and off their balconies to join in the revelry. By this point there were at least a thousand people gathered on the street.
As the night wore on things started to get a little out of hand. There were several young ladies who got on the shoulders of different men only to expose themselves to the crowd. Those women were immediately arrested by the police. A few men gathered empty beer boxes and lighted them to start a fire but the crowd quickly put the flames out. Beer cans and empty beer boxes were hitting bystanders every few seconds.
Around 1a.m. the mood of the few thousand was changing drastically. The entire crowd began encircling the corner of Cedar and Waters Edge. A group of guys charged at the street sign to remove it from the ground. Every few minutes from above the police would shine a spotlight into the crowd sending them into an uproar it was like putting gas on a fire. The groups of guys finally removed the street sign which sent the crowd in a frenzy as they started running with the sign up and down the block.
By 1:30a.m. the crowd was completely out of control. It was raining beer cans and bottles. MSU senior Erin Bledsoe’s front windshield got smashed in by a bottle, who’s only remark was, “I feel really upset but it is something small compared to what else could have happened.”
(Cedar Street during Cedar Fest around 1a.m. as the crowd starts taking down the street sign)
The tension was slowly building up around 1:50 a.m.. The police lined the Grand River Avenue end of Cedar Street. Police were met by a mini crowd of 30 reverlers who stood 20 feet away from them. For minutes both the police and the crowd stood still, it was like the calm before the storm. The only noise came from the warnings from the police to vacate the street because it had been declared an unlawful assembly. Then the crowd slowly edged towards the police, who then pushed them back. The crowd became aggrevated with the police and started throwing beer bottles and whatever else they could find at the police. Smoke grenades and flash-bang grenades were shot off, panic erupted through the crowd and people started clearing the streets.
After the warning shots, half the crowd remained. Police clothed in full riot gear ran throughout Cedar Village. The crowd began chasing police who then had finally had enough with the crowd and let out 13 rounds of tear gas. The crowd dispersed quickly. All that remained was the now vacant Cedar Street. The street held a ghastly resemblence to eastern Berlin during the Cold War. The streets were covereed an inch thick with broken glass. The air was foggy with tear gas and smoke from dumpster fires. Police roaming around on foot and in patrol cars were the only visable signs of life.
The next morning the city and the university were trying to sort out what had occurred the previous evening. East Lansing police Chief Tom Wibert announced at the press conference that, “As far as I’m concerned, Cedar Fest is over and we’re not going to allow it to happen again.”
Police figure there were more then 3,000 people at Cedar Fest. There was a total of 52 arrests, of those only 28 were MSU students. As of April 10, six MSU students have been suspended from the university for their actions at Cedar Fest.