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Boston's Killer Cops

Death of a Fan

by DAVE ZIRIN

Victoria Snelgrove is dead. The 21 year old Emerson College journalism student exercised her right as a fan to stand on her Boston street and cheer the Red Sox’s pennant victory over the New York Yankees. For her trouble, she was shot by the Boston Police Department with a "crowd dispersal" pepper spray projectile. The projectile completed its purpose and exploded on impact in her eye socket. She died the next day.

Outside Victoria Snelgrove’s family home in East Bridgewater, her father Rick hugged a photograph of his daughter. He told reporters, through his tears, "She loved the Red Sox. She went in to celebrate with friends. She was a bystander. She was out of the way, but she still got shot."

This wasn’t supposed to happen at Emerson College. Anyone who has ever set foot on Beacon Street area campus knows that it’s not exactly Texas A&M. Emerson is a private, $25,000 a year communications school with a jock culture that rests somewhere in between pastoral commune, and a Phish Concert. In a city bursting at the seams with higher education, it is perhaps the last place–save M.I.T.–where one would expect a police killing to follow a Red Sox win. The utter incongruity of it all has injected a hard dose of reality into the Sox’s fantastical playoff run. Victoria’s shadow won’t be lifted by Mayor Thomas Menino’s initial suggestion to ban alcohol sales or Police Commissioner Kathleen O’Toole’s idea to "switch to a new kind of pepper spray." More needs to be done.

O’Toole was forced to say she "firmly and emphatically" accepted responsibility for the incident but then in the same breath praised the officers for their "great restraint" and condemned the "punks" for turning celebration into a "near-riot." Menino toed that same line, expressing regret but then blaming "thugs" who "sent events out of control".

None of this passes the truth test.

80,000 people were dancing in the Beantown streets that night, yet there were only 8 arrests. An Oklahoma Sooners tailgating party is rowdier than this. Also video of Snelgrove’s shooting doesn’t show a near riot but a bevy of hugging, chanting, high fiving, college kids.

As eyewitness Doug Conroy, said, "A lot of people then looked over and saw her lying awkwardly on the sidewalk and blood coming out of her nose. She wasn’t moving and we were just hoping she was just unconscious." He called the shooting "an egregious overreaction…. There was nothing violent going on. It was all celebration."

Emerson students are currently planning vigils and memorials to Victoria. But the people of Boston need to do more. They should hold up signs emblazed with Victoria’s name outside and inside Fenway Park during the World Series because any one of them could have died that night. They also need to demand O’Toole’s job and the prosecution of the officer in question. They also need to ask bigger questions about the methods of the Boston Police Department

As a Caucasian 21 year old college student, Victoria Snelgrove was not your typical brutality victim. But if this is what O’Toole describes as ‘great restraint’ it raises the question of what police are doing in parts of the city like Roxbury and Mattapan where the lights don’t shine as brightly. With the police department on the defensive, it’s time to encourage people at the wrong end of the nightstick to come forward. If that can be part of Victoria Snelgrove’s legacy, then it can be a legacy that saves lives.

DAVE ZIRIN has a book coming out, What’s My Name, Fool: sports and resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books) comes out in spring 2005. To have his column sent to you every week, just e-mail edgeofsports-subscribe@zirin.com.

Contact the author at editor@pgpost.com