Playing with fire

February 15, 2005

THE WORDS "student" and "rioting" once brought to mind, for better or worse, a certain political era. But of course, those days are long gone, and nowadays on some college campuses - and particularly at College Park - "student" and "rioting" more often imply a certain sports-and-alcohol-induced frenzy.

Late Saturday night, several thousand University of Maryland students and hangers-on once again spilled out of bars and elsewhere, blocking U.S. 1 and lighting fires, to celebrate the Terrapin basketball team's second beating of Duke this season. Ironically, UM students deserve credit for notably forsaking profanity during the game inside the Comcast Center. But they flunked the postgame test - with street rioting that has become a tradition, despite university threats to expel participants.

Upsetting Duke is, of course, always satisfying, and it's perfectly understandable that it would trigger some sort of joyous celebration among UM students. But this is as simple as the don't-play-with-fire lesson that everyone should have learned long before college. We're incredibly sorry that this needs saying: Lighting fires, destroying property and confronting cops in full riot gear is not only downright dumb but very dangerous. It also does untold damage to the rising reputation of UM, a college that is supposed to have become very selective in its admissions and whose students should aspire to higher standards than those displayed on U.S. 1.

Postgame riots must stop before big fires erupt out of control, as in 2001, or a celebration turns deadly. Police have been doing a better job of containing the chaos, but this isn't simply a police matter. Since 2002, UM students can be expelled as a result of convictions on riot-related offenses, but that has never happened. Perhaps a few such expulsions would help put an end to this unworthy tradition.

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