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April 4, 2012

What a riot

Transfixed by all the trash talk between Louisville and Lexington, I couldn’t resist joining the fray. Seconds into Saturday’s frenzied NCAA Final Four face-off, I texted my godson at UK. “I’m so sorry we’re going to have to kick your alabaster ass,” I wrote.

“Oh Godfather,” he replied, “we here at the University of Kentucky would like to applaud U of L’s effort to revive a long-dead basketball program, but unfortunately, we’re ranked #1 for a reason; let the ass whipping begin!” Defiant at his shameless escalation of violent imagery, I wrote, “Antidepressants on me when we beat you like a circus monkey.”

As it turns out, March Madness gave way to mischief as apparent UK students — about 30 of whom were arrested — damaged vehicles, uprooted traffic signs, hurled beer bottles, set “nuisance fires” and gave Big Blue Nation a big black eye.

Besotted belligerents left a swath of debris on State Street, pausing only to urinate, defecate or projectile puke. EMS reportedly took 15 people to hospitals for alcohol intoxication and wounds from broken glass, etc. Police are investigating several arsons. According to the Herald-Leader, “Before it ignited, revelers were observed turning over a car as they chanted ‘flip that shit.’ More than a dozen student-age people climbed on the overturned car, chanted and waved UK and U.S. flags.”

I’ve always been wary of chanting flag-wavers. They look brainwashed — or brain-dead. Their eyes glaze over as they endorse horrific assaults on civil liberties such as The Patriot Act and multibillion-dollar expenditures to create the illusion of homeland security. Whether sober or shitfaced, they’re scary.

In a pirouette of spin, UK alienated the offenders and indicted their intent: “It is unfortunate that a small number of people are using what should be a night of celebration as an excuse to attempt to tarnish the university and the community,” spokesman Jay Blanton wrote.

It sounds so plausible that a few malicious losers — outsiders — would seek to rain on UK’s parade, one might even overlook the symptoms of a nationwide campus alcohol problem and an institutional effort to deflect attention from it.

Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts wasn’t so diversionary. “Unfortunately, we knew that people were going to attempt to destroy property, set fires, and be highly intoxicated,” she told the Herald-Leader. “Everything that happened, we expected, anticipated and planned for and were able to deal with,” despite there being “more than 10,000 people and 200 police officers.”

Evidently the cops had clearer crystal balls than citizens, who were mortified by the magnitude of the misconduct.

Given the official forecast, it seems sensible that authorities would have deployed the National Guard, which surely could be trusted not to pepper spray a sit-in among nuns or mistake rabbis for hippies.

Saturday’s scofflaws temporarily gave Lexington, UK — and rioting — a bad name.

One favorable outcome of the Red and Blue advancement to the Final Four was a legislature with basketball on the brain during the final full week of business. The decadence of New Orleans summoned. On the eve of the showdown, instead of snarling over crumbs amid partisan trash talking, lawmakers passed a timely state budget — the first since 2006.

They didn’t pass a two-year road plan. House Bill 267 remains in negotiations between the House and Senate.

It’s a hot potato because it contains part of a controversial financial plan for the $2.6 billion Ohio River Bridges Project. The tolling plan has been the subject of stonewalling and misinformation. Shortly before the House Budget Committee passed the bill on March 15, Rep. Jim Wayne, D-35, asked about the feasibility of a rebate for low-income Louisville residents who work in Southern Indiana.

Rep. Sannie Overly, D-72, replied, “I believe specific accommodations were made for low-income individuals by maintaining two access points across the river (the I-64/Sherman Minton and Clark Memorial bridges) for free, if you will, without tolls.” Transportation Sec. Mike Hancock, seated beside her, knew otherwise but remained silent. Last week, he confirmed a plan to toll the Sherman Minton 20 years hence, telling the C-J, “I think we’ve been very straightforward with all of this.”

If it were only a game, there would be a riot.