Editor’s note: This is part of a package on furniture fires and couch burnings. Read about the health and environmental effects of burning couches. Also check out new legislation cracking down on individuals who intentionally set fires.
While police hope to crack down on an array of fires lit this NCAA tournament season in college towns across the country, MSU students are uncertain if harsh punishments are appropriate.
East Lansing police responded to 12 fires immediately following MSU’s loss to Duke in the NCAA men’s basketball Sweet 16, with two more the following night.
Kenneth Voog, a 22-year-old listed as a finance senior in MSU’s directory, was arraigned Tuesday on one charge of disorderly conduct for being intoxicated in a public place and endangering the property of another, and another charge for kindling a fire.
East Lansing police Capt. Jeff Murphy said he initially was given an appearance citation for lighting a Christmas tree on fire in his backyard.
Last week, another individual was arrested on charges of assembling for a riot and standing within 300 feet of a fire in the 700 block of Oak Street, where several other individuals gathered. Police would not release the person’s name and any affiliation to the university until after an arraignment, although media sources have said the individual is a 22-year-old MSU student.
Two other individuals initially were ticketed in relation to fires from that weekend, although the city attorney since has dismissed the charges for further investigation. Police are offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals involved with the fires.
Several other college towns were lit up with couch burnings and street fires during this year’s NCAA basketball tournament.
At least seven fires were reported in Ann Arbor following the University of Michigan’s loss to Louisville in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship game Monday night. A crowd in Louisville, Ky., was dispersed after police released bursts of tear gas, according to media reports.
“Looking back, it’s something to say that it was a tradition,” communication junior Ashley Mlynarek said of similar actions at MSU throughout the years. “(Police are) looking out for our safety, but it sucks because it’s ruining our tradition.”
Although furniture fires have occurred at MSU since the Cedar Village block-parties-turned-riots of the 1970s, commonly referred to as Cedar Fest, some current students aren’t on the bandwagon.
“Burning a couch is a bit excessive,” psychology junior Jenna Dean said. “It’s stupid to do it.”
Dean, similar to three other students interviewed, said lighting fires after a loss is inappropriate.
But students also said potential penalties for Voog and the other individual involved with furniture fires are too harsh.
“They’re trying to set an example,” Dean said of prosecutors and police cracking down on riot-related behavior. “Don’t ruin someone’s record for a stupid college mistake they made.”
Economics senior Myles Fowler-Quick said although charges of assembly for riot were somewhat unreasonable, if students are accurately charged for starting fires, they should be punished.
“To me, that’s not the image you want,” Fowler-Quick said of how the fires alter MSU’s reputation. “All (the fires do) is create a mess for the city to clean up.”