Late-Night Comedy Hosts Foresaw Police Confrontations at a Pumpkin Festival

This weekend's riots in Keene, New Hampshire, had seen some foreshadowing.

The Keene, New Hampshire, pumpkin festival doesn’t rank high on the list of events you would expect to end in police using tear gas on rioters. The festival is better known for attempting to break world records for the largest number of jack-o-lanterns lit in one place. So it seems absurd on first glance to consider what happened there this weekend. The Boston Globe reports:

Disturbances continued into Sunday morning after parties at Keene State College spun out of control Saturday. Police in riot gear fired tear gas at hundreds of students throwing bottles and other objects, according to witnesses on the scene.

At least one car and two Dumpsters were overturned.

According to the Keene Fire Department, multiple people were transported to a nearby hospital.

Maybe, though, we shouldn’t be that surprised to see police armed with riot gear tasked with maintaining order at a pumpkin festival. The confrontations between protesters and police in Ferguson, Missouri, have brought media attention to the fact of heavily armed police departments across the nation in the past few months. Here in Massachusetts, the same Defense Department program that armed Ferguson police with helicopters and rifles has also awarded millions in equipment to Massachusetts departments.

And maybe viewers of late night comedy shows should be especially unsurprised at the headlines from Keene. As the Globe points out, both HBO’s John Oliver and Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert poked fun at the small town’s justification for acquiring an armored vehicle known as a BearCat. Oliver opined:

This has happened on such a scale that it’s enabled small towns like Keene, New Hampshire, to apply for a BearCat, a military-grade armored personnel truck, which they needed because as their application argues, ‘The terrorism threat is far reaching and often unforeseen,’ and cited as a possible target: their annual pumpkin festival.

It might seem like a strange coincidence that the small New England department called out by Oliver months ago has actually seen a large-scale public disturbance at exactly the event the police cited as needing protection. In coming days, more facts about the confrontations between rioters and police will presumably come out. A statement from the Keene State College president warns that students involved may face expulsion.

Regardless of the aftermath, we should no longer be surprised to see reports of small police departments with tear gas, SWAT gear, and tasers, even at a small New England festival like this one.