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Monday, December 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Light Drizzle Fog/Mist
The Daily
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UW-Madison students frustrated, unmoved by MPD's Mifflin Street Block Party crackdown
Partiers sing from the porch of a Mifflin Street house in 2012. A Madison Police Department letter warns that a 'no tolerance' policy is planned for similar gatherings this year.
Partiers sing from the porch of a Mifflin Street house in 2012. A Madison Police Department letter warns that a 'no tolerance' policy is planned for similar gatherings this year.
Credit:Lukas Keapproth

UW-Madison senior Matt Warnert was stabbed at the 2011 Mifflin Street Block Party, but he describes efforts on the part of the Madison Police Department to shut down the annual festival as an "iron fist" approach.

"I understand they want to make it safe," says Warnert. "But what does that have to do with scaring someone having a house party on Gorham, or anywhere downtown?"

The MPD sent a letter to downtown residents and students in mid-April announcing that there will be no block party this year, traditionally held on the first weekend of May, and that it is adopting a "no tolerance policy in reference to enforcing house party violations on Mifflin Street and the entire downtown area."

The weekend represents a final opportunity for students to cut loose before preparing for final exams and dispersing for summer break or, in the case of seniors, real world obligations. The block party began in 1969 as a Vietnam War protest, but has changed over the years to become a large beer bash. In 2011, a liberal open intoxicant policy meant to draw partiers out of the street's backyards instead resulted in widespread drunkenness, injuries to police officers and two stabbings, including Warnert's.

In 2012, the party's excesses were significantly curtailed with officers keeping people off the street and sidewalks and arresting dozens of students, including Wisconsin football star Montee Ball, for trespassing. The crackdown didn't deter students from printing t-shirts, assembling impressive collections of booze or otherwise celebrating.

Warnert says what happened to him two years ago was "unfortunate and should have been avoided" but that it gets under his skin that the stabbing is listed among the reasons to end Mifflin.

"There were how many great moments, and how many people had great times, probably 100,000 times more than the bad experiences," says Warnert. "It's like one bad apple ruining all the good ones, and they weren't even students who [stabbed me], so why are you threatening students two years later?"

Many students, like junior Jon Dale, still plan to party with roommates and friends. Dale, who lives on Gorham Street, calls the police letter ridiculous. He says his landlord has scheduled showings of his apartment on Saturday from 11-3, an unprecedented move in his view.

"It's ridiculous," says Dale. "Nowhere in my lease does it say I have to let them in for a showing, and if [the landlord] would use that as a reason to let the cops in, I would say no."

Many students, regardless of where they live, have commented over the past few weeks that they understand the need to crack down on much of the risky behavior associated with the block party, but feel the wider attempt to shut down smaller house parties is unfair.

Senior Megan Coppens lives on Bassett and says that, "even if they say no Mifflin, people are still going to drink, but it's good that the changes will stop the out-of-towners from coming."

Coppens is also planning a party at her house although with the MPD warning, she says she is "a little afraid" but adds that she and her friends are over 21 so she doesn't believe she'll be targeted.

In the past, the free-for-all atmosphere on Mifflin allowed underage students to feel safe from enforcement with police officers focused on addressing more serious crimes. But Nick, a freshman who preferred not to give his last name, says he "probably isn't going to go to Mifflin" and says he has also heard of increased police presence around the UW-Madison residence halls.

"It sucks that it had to happen my freshman year," Nick says. "It's a tradition this school had that I've heard was awesome and it's getting taken away, but hopefully it turns out better in the future."

One resident of Mifflin Street says he's planning on having some people over, although Nick Stout isn't planning on accommodating strangers and is looking to keep his party small and relatively quiet.

"The police stopped at our house and said if we have anything that resembles any kind of party they would shut us down," Stout says. "I feel like it's unfair. Our entire house is 21 and we should be able to drink on our own property on any weekend we want."

Other students say they plan to spend the day at campus area bars or the Memorial Union Terrace. Revelry, the new music and arts fest held in the Union South neighborhood that has been called an alternative to Mifflin, has not yet generated much enthusiasm. One junior, who has friends who helped organize Revelry, says she plans to check it out. "It's only five bucks and you can come and go, so why not?"

More students seem disinterested in attending a sanctioned event. Sophomore Rob Jacobsen says he "honestly doesn't even know what that is." Many of those who do know about the event are unmotivated by the performing acts or, as Nick Stout puts it, "I'm not really interested in Revelry. The spirit of the weekend is people drinking on Mifflin, not going to some concert."

Dale believes the energy to defy warnings and gather to socialize, blow off steam and yes, drink, will prevail, as it has for over 40 years.

"We are a group of adults making the choice to learn but also have fun while we do it," says Dale. "That's one of the main reasons people love Wisconsin. And if you think Madison would be the same without that idea, you're wrong."

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