Street Scene Crowds Diminish as More Violence Mars Festival

Times Staff Writers

The monster crowds expected to flood downtown for the Street Scene on Sunday never materialized and police suggested that news of the mini-riot staged by angry, drunken punk rockers Saturday night might have kept many away.

Festival organizers had estimated that 750,000 people would be on hand for the last day of the celebration of Los Angeles’ rich cultural diversity, but by late evening less than 70,000 had shown up, according to police.

Street Scene spokeswoman Esther Renteria, however, rebutted those figures:

“No! Come on, that’s silly. We had the same crowd yesterday and they said 500,000.”

Police, however, stuck by their estimate.

Despite the smaller crowd, police reported some incidents of violence as the festival came to a close Sunday night, including one shooting and at least four stabbings. And one young man died of an apparent drug-induced heart attack. But none of the incidents Sunday approached the intensity of Saturday’s melee, officers said.


Sgt. Larry Thompson, who was in charge of police operations during the festival, said there was a “definite possibility” that Saturday’s altercation--which left 15 officers and several horses slightly injured and 25 people arrested--discouraged many people from leaving their homes.

The failure of the punk rock band The Ramones to arrive for its scheduled performance on the steps of City Hall triggered Saturday’s melee, police said.

“The Ramones were due to start. For whatever reason they did not show up and the crowd got a little testy and they started to tear up the stage,” Thompson said.

The concert crowd began pelting the 120 or so helmeted police officers who responded to the disturbance with bottles and rocks at about 9:30 p.m., Thompson said. Most of the injured officers, who suffered cuts and bruises, were treated at the scene. One officer was taken to a hospital for treatment of a broken finger.

At least 15 horses attached to the Police Department’s mounted patrol were hurt during the melee, police said.

It took officers about an hour to disperse the crowd, but pockets of resistance flared up for another hour, Thompson said.


The majority of those arrested were booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon (rocks and bottles) and some were taken into custody for allegedly being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, police said.

Police said they have suggested over the years that the festival might avoid violence if beer and wine were not available at booths.

“From the police perspective, we bring this up every year and immediately get overridden,” said Thompson, who added that the Sunday crowd was behaving.

Festival organizers blamed punk rock fans for Saturday’s melee.

“Let the punkers stay home and we’ll be OK,” Renteria said. “Everything is going fine today.”

As an added precaution Sunday, Renteria said, police were checking more closely to stop visitors from bringing in liquor. And the legitimate vendors were checking the identification of just about everybody who sought to buy alcoholic beverages.

Things Get Tense

Things got tense for police as the crowds began leaving the Civic Center when the Street Scene officially ended shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday. An unidentified man in his 20s died from a heart attack near the stage on Los Angeles Street at the Federal Office Building. Officers said the seizure was apparently induced by a drug overdose.


At about the same time, another man in his 20s was shot in the leg in an unrelated incident near the same stage. Details surrounding the shooting were sketchy and it was not immediately known whether officers had apprehended any suspects.

Four others were also stabbed in the vicinity, but their wounds were not believed to be serious.

Sporadic bottle-throwing also was reported near Spring and 2nd streets.

Police said they made several arrests for public drunkenness during the day.

But for the most part, said Brookes Treidler, assistant general manager of the city Department of General Services, organizers of the two-day event, “The crowd has been marvelous. It’s the easiest day we’ve ever had.”

Food Sales Down

Food vendors said their sales were not as brisk as they would have liked.

With cool weather prevailing Sunday, one ice cream hawker looked glum as she closed her stand.

“I don’t think it’s half of what they thought it would be,” said Kathy Wilmes, who had volunteered to work at the stand for an Orange County-based religious organization. “To be honest, I’d rather have donated the money,” she said.

Harvey Chang, whose Chinese Village Catering business sets up its woks under the City Hall pedestrian bridge each year during the Street Scene, was philosophical about this year’s event. He compared the festival attendance to his hand. Some fingers are larger than others, but it doesn’t make them less important, he said.


“Maybe this is a pinkie year,” Chang said.

Times staff writers Hector Gutierrez, Lionel Sanchez and Nieson Himmel contributed to this article.