Abuse of Power: Culture Clash Ends in Show of Force

Editors Note:

Back in the mid 90’s I was into going to a lot of punk shows – I still am from time to time even now. The other day I was rummaging through some of my old stuff and I found an article that I had cut out that reminded me of one show I attended. It was a more memorable one that I went to with a few friends, I forget exactly who, But I remember my friend Jarret Cook was there. I could be way off on some of the minor details but I think the show was in 1996 and the band Dystopia was slated to play there. It was a benefit show to build classrooms in Chiapas, Mexico.

From a first hand account of a person that was there, I can say that the show of police force was extremely overkill. You have a room full of harmless teenage punk rockers and you look out the window to see a line of officers in riot gear surrounding the building and threatening to throw in tear gas. What do you do? As the article below explains, the leader of the event really was trying to diffuse the situation, despite what the police said.

Another turn of events that is kind of funny but I do not believe directly effect this article is that ex-bee writer Diana Griego Erwin wrote it. She was let go from the Sacramento Bee because he higher ups say that she was making up sources, though she claims that is not true.

After you read the article below that I retyped, because I could not find it in the Bee archives, you will find various links that are related to these topics. Lastly, if you were there and can give me any more information or follow up on this so I can make it more comprehensive, please email me.

Culture Clash Ends in Show of Force

The purpose of the now-disastrous event at the Sierra 2 Center in Curtis Park Saturday night was to raise money to build a classroom in Chiapas, Mexico.

What it turned into, however, was a lesson on how to incite a riot without even trying. The Zapatista Solidarity Coalition, an organization dedicated to advocating democracy for Mexico’s indigenous people had no plans to cause havoc that night and neither did the assembled punk bands. The evening was about raising money, not hell.

ASC members showed up to the 6 p.m. event early to set up a table where they would hand out literature and sell T-shirts. The itinerary included performances by five punk bands , a poetry reading and a slide show explaining the Chiapas situation. It was to end at 10.

David Lawlor, a Sierra 2 employee who monitors evening events, helped the group set up. ZSC members said he was cordial and expressed interest in their cause. He was the first one to sign their mailing list.

Sacramento police records show a citizen called in at 6:18 PM to report that kids gathered in the parking lot were loud and profane. Four officers responded and said there were noise complaints. This seemed suspicious to those inside; after all, the bands were still setting up. What “noise” meant never was clarified.

Accustomed to being singled out by adults leery of their leather, pierces bodies and unconventional hairstyles, the punks surmised they were in for an evening of harassment. Even the event flier forecast problems. “NO ALCOHOL,” it read. “The cops are looking for an excuse to shut us down – don’t give it to them.”

At 7:15 p.m., Sgt. Tom Cooper showed up to check permits, police records show. Lawlor, meanwhile, was struggling to accommodate the group even though the youth who booked the hall had described it as a “birthday party” with a band – not a benefit concert featuring punk bands.

The event was moved to Sierra 2’s theater. Things started unraveling when Lawlor found himself jumping from group to group in the hallway outside to tell kids they couldn’t smoke or drink alcohol in the building at all. Everything inside the theater was going well.

In the hallway, some of the punks respected Lawlor’s requests and others didn’t. It wasn’t until a young punk with a double mohawk kicked a door, “chest-butted” Lawlor and took a swing at him that he called the police non-emergency number to say he’d been assaulted and needed help. The call came in at 8:48 p.m. as a “disturbance.”

The folks in the theater knew none of thi. Their first clue that anything was amiss occurred during a poetry reading at 9:04 p.m. Suddenly there was Sgt. Cooper announcing that the event was over. Poet Phil Goldvarg said the crowd looked up to see one end of the theater lined with officers in riot gear.

A young man threw a beverage container against a wall angrily (police say at an officer; others say not) and was immediately wrestled to the ground and arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.

The crowd grew hostile. A few people called the police “pigs” and “Nazis.” At 9:06 p.m., officers called for a paddy wagon and advised backup units to bring riot gear. Police say that the crowd didn’t disperse because ZSC member Victor Rivera encouraged them to disobey police orders. Rivera maintains he told the kids to sit down because the overzealous police response was elevating the situation.

He was arrested for inciting the crowd. “I was calming the people down,” said Rivera, a house painter and a respected activist. “I couldn’t believe the show of force.”

By 9:10 p.m., the police reported the event was “out of control” and officers continued to arrive. In all 46 Sacramento city officers, 21 sheriff’s deputies, canine units and a California Highway Patrol helicopter responded to the scene.

“There is no doubt about it. This was an intimidating sight,” police spokeswoman Pam Alejandre said. “That’s what it’s supposed to be. . . . There was definitely the fear that this had the potential of escalating.

The punks and pro-Zapatista folks agree, but they blame the cops that it did. The community officers wouldn’t have handled it like that, someone said.

It’s a classic clashing of cultures. Police don’t understand punk culture; punks don’t understand the cops. The night unraveled, thread by tender thread. Emotions surged. People stepped to the brink. And Jumped

Article by: Diana Griego Erwin, originally published in the Sac Bee

The Zapatista Solidarity Coalition: http://zsc.org/

Scandal-stung Bee columnist talks to SN&R: http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/content?oid=35418

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