Kevin Cullen

Asking for trouble

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / July 21, 2008

Jim Rufo is 44 years old, grew up in Holyoke and now lives near Albany. He and his wife, Tracy, have season tickets for the Celtics and they were there all year for the great, long ride, and were there the night that KG and the boys sent Kobe and the rest of the Lakers packing.

It was a terrific night and the Rufos stepped out onto Causeway Street feeling as good as they had ever felt. Within minutes, things turned uncomfortable.

Not with the crowd. But with the police.

"It looked as though they were ready for the south LA riots after the Rodney King verdict. We watched the police unload from buses. They were in riot gear, with batons and shields," Jim Rufo was saying the other day. "There were hundreds and hundreds of them, and I looked around and said, 'Is this really necessary?'

"I'm not going to tell you there weren't a thousand people who had too much to drink or were on their way to having too much to drink, but they were mostly happy. People were high-fiving each other. They weren't fighting. It was not a hostile crowd.

"But the police kept pouring off the buses, and they were very aggressive and very hostile, and I was thinking, 'Do they really need this many cops?' And I was thinking, is this going to make things better or worse?"

It made things worse for David Woodman. He mouthed off walking past a group of cops, with a beer in his hand. Woodman said what Jim Rufo was thinking: that it seemed like there were an awful lot of cops around.

For this, Woodman was grabbed by some cops and put on the ground and later he was dead. Now, you can dress this up any way you want: that Woodman had a preexisting heart condition, that it was an unfortunate accident, that it was any number of things. But the bottom line is David Woodman is dead and he died as a result of being taken into custody by some cops who didn't like some kid mouthing off to them.

You will never convince Jim Rufo that David Woodman is dead for any other reason than that the show of force put on by police the night the Celtics won their 17th championship was something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: that if you hype police officers up for battle, if you send them into a crowd of civilians with weapons, you are asking for trouble.

This is not peculiar to Boston. I've seen it happen in Belfast and in Brussels and in Belgrade.

If you give people with authority the green light to kick butt, some of them will overdo it.

But this has everything to do with Boston. After the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2004, a 21-year-old named James Grabowski got killed, run over by another kid whose response to a football game was to go out and act stupid. That death, and the flaccid police preparation for and response to the riot that precipitated it, sullied the police department.

Months later, after the Red Sox vanquished the Yankees, another 21-year-old, a beautiful girl named Victoria Snelgrove, was killed, this time by police who were determined not let the anarchy that led to Grabowski's death happen again.

And now another kid, 22-year-old David Woodman, is dead, again at the hands of police officers, who may or may not be held responsible.

How many others have to die before the Boston police figure out that maybe, just maybe, they are helping to create the very conditions they seek to control with storm trooper tactics?

"I have nothing against the police. My grandfather was a policeman," Jim Rufo was saying. "We understand the police are in a tough position. But somebody died.

"On the way home, Tracy and I talked about walking out and feeling so good, and then experiencing something that felt like a police state. It was unnerving.

"I don't know what the answer is. But unless you have a riot, you shouldn't act like there's a riot."

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

Boston police arrested this man after he allegedly trespassed on construction equipment and taunted police at the Celtics championship rally.
Boston police arrested this man after he allegedly trespassed on construction equipment and taunted police at the Celtics championship rally. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)
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