Street Scene: : Loud and Rowdy--and Far Bigger Than Expected

Times Staff Writer

Attendance at the eighth annual Los Angeles Street Scene swelled far beyond its organizers’ expectations, rising by as much as 30%, apparently the largest year-to-year increase ever, officials said Sunday.

In what police said they regarded as a disturbing trend, however, much of the Civic Center music-and-food festival’s growth seemed to be coming from young heavy metal and punk rock fans, some of whom revel in unruly conduct around musical stages.

On two occasions Saturday, large numbers of police--some wearing helmets and wielding clubs, others on horseback--waded into densely clustered crowds that they considered out of control and shut down performances.

In both cases, thousands of spectators were watching bands that emphasize loud electric instrumentation. Fans of such music often push and shove near the stage and, in some cases, pick up fellow spectators, who are passed hand-to-hand above the crowd.

Some spectators and bystanders complained that police employed unnecessary force in dispersing them. Police at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Street Scene command post denied the allegations, saying force was used only to arrest those who violently resisted officers.


Brookes Treidler, assistant general manager of the city’s Department of General Services and Sunday’s Street Scene command post coordinator, said both incidents “were problems not so much of crowd attitude. . . . It’s just numbers, and maybe a little bit of mob psychology. . . . The crowd Saturday, as we can gather, was far beyond anything we’ve ever had.”

A Youthful Tilt

Treidler said parking revenues were up about 50% on Saturday from the first-day figure for 1984’s Street Scene. Vern Herrmann, general superintendent of the general services department, estimated that attendance--estimated at about 1 million last year--had increased at least 30% on Saturday and 25% on Sunday over 1984 totals.

Herrmann and police who had worked previous Street Scenes agreed that the composition of the crowd had tilted toward youthful rock music fans, rather than families.

“You look at the faces and you can see most of the people are under 30,” said Herrmann.

Sgt. Lane Sterling, who was working at the police command post behind Parker Center on Sunday, said that although the chief law enforcement concern at the festival in past years has been late-night encounters between members of rival street gangs, “the big problem this year appears to be punk rockers.

“They go to the rock stages and take over an area in front of the stage and start knocking people down and throwing bottles,” Sterling said. “I don’t recall it being that much of a problem last year.”

Sterling said it appeared that there were more alcoholic beverage sales outlets at the Street Scene this year, “and it seems more people are drinking earlier in the day.”

The first encounter between police and young rock fans occurred Saturday afternoon at a stage on San Pedro Street near Temple Street, a stage that had been reserved both Saturday and Sunday for punk rock-type acts. According to officers, whose command post is within view of the stage, a few dozen spectators were pushing and shoving each other and throwing bottles at the stage. Some of the rowdy spectators were perched on a multilevel parking structure above the stage.

“They made it unsafe to be near that stage,” said Sterling, who said he was monitoring the crowd from an observation point in Parker Center.

About 150 officers, including 40 on horseback, were called in to clear a crowd that Treidler estimated at between 2,000 and 3,000--"more than we anticipated.” Several people were arrested, including one person who was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon after being accused of throwing a bottle at a policeman, officers said. A police spokesman said two or three spectators and one patrolman suffered minor injuries. Bystanders said police fanned out on San Pedro Street from Temple to 1st streets. Street Scene organizers shut down the stage for the rest of the festival and sent other acts scheduled there to nearby stages.

Late Saturday night, a heavy-metal band was playing the day’s last show on a stage on Main Street between Temple and Aliso streets when police attempted to close the show in response to a report that some spectators had thrown bottles onto the stage and were climbing on it and attacking performers and security personnel.

“There was absolutely no warning from the police. No one got up on stage and said, ‘You have to leave,’ ” said Debra Rosner, publicist for the group, Poison.

An initial complement of about a dozen officers, some on horseback, encountered resistance from the crowd; one officer was knocked off his horse, according to reports from police and spectators.

One spectator, Brian Litton, 19, of La Puente said that before police arrived, there had been requests from the stage for spectators to stop pushing each other toward the stage.

‘Run for Their Lives’

The mounted police who attempted to break up the crowd “were making people run for their lives,” Litton complained. “The cops were running people over.” In response, he said, the crowd grew angry, “yelling at police” and throwing bottles.

“As soon as they started pushing people around, people started fighting back,” said another spectator, Brad Melillo, 22, of Covina.

A few minutes later, scores of other policemen arrived and began dispersing the crowd.

Litton and Melillo said police were unnecessarily rough.

“Even if you were just walking away, they’d come up and say, ‘You better get out of here,’ and they’d start hitting you,” Melillo said.

Police denied this, however.

Police Capt. Bob Martin, field commander for the festival, said no physical force was used on spectators or bystanders in either incident, though it was used “to overcome . . . violent resistance” by people suspected of assault.

“We stood there taking rocks and bottles for half an hour,” Martin said. “But when they started throwing it into the crowd, we specifically identified those who were throwing and we arrested them. The policemen did not physically deal with anyone except specific arrestees.”

The San Pedro Street stage remained closed Sunday, he added, because of the Saturday problems, but not elsewhere because the trouble did not seem to spread to other areas.

“It was a minor little incident,” Martin said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people didn’t even know it happened.”