The Sunset Strip, of Los Angeles but not in it, is a grimly prophetic area. Social, political, and demographic factors explosively combined, have established there a persistent pattern of conflict and hostility which conveys the sinister atmosphere of life in California today with remarkable economy. The atmosphere of the Strip is spreading fast, and is toxic. The reagents which generate it are not peculiar to the area—just, at present, more concentrated there. The same peculiar odor now hangs over the University of California where, optimists say, atmospheric conditions are still probably sub-lethal except to those in especially exposed positions.
Sunset Boulevard is wide, heavily traveled, and about twenty miles long. It runs from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Ocean north of Santa Monica, though there are shorter and easier ways to get there. The portion known as the Strip is about a third of the way out from town, and owes its existence to a geographical anomaly.
Where the Strip developed, Sunset Boulevard runs through an area about two miles wide which, with Beverly Hills adjoining it on the west, is entirely surrounded by Los Angeles but excluded from it. Beverly Hills is a separate municipality, but the area in which most of the Strip is located is known as West Hollywood and is not incorporated at all. Lawful authority in West Hollywood is administered by Los Angeles County and represented by deputy sheriffs. Freedom from municipal control permitted the Strip to develop into an area of illicit amusement, violent and vulgar but conventional. But during the past decade its character has changed. It ceased to be violent, while vulgarity has become so characteristic of Los Angeles as to require no special enclave in which to flourish. The night clubs and dance hails became somewhat more sedate, and the Strip began to blend into Los Angeles on the east. Smart, or nearly smart, specialty shops opened; and reputable, if rather garish, apartment buildings and hotels were built. Los Angeles’s expensive Restaurant Row developed along the western part of the Strip, near Beverly Hills, and along La Cienega Boulevard where it intersects Sunset.
But business along the now respectable Strip has not been flourishing. Its near suburban facade developed spots of urban decay. There were even vacancies, and businessmen began to worry. Nothing was happening to relieve the Strip’s mediocrity: Hollywood had lost much of its allure; Westwood, a few miles further west, was far more elegant; this part of Sunset wasn’t even tawdry enough to be exciting. The plight of the Strip is epitomized in two electric signs that still dominate its east end. One urges fun-seekers on to Las Vegas; the other shows two elderly satisfied customers—it is not clear whether they are shades or survivors—smiling with satisfaction at the services they have received from Forest Lawn. In any case, the signs suggest, there could be little reason to remain on the Strip.
AT THIS JUNCTURE, and about two years ago, some of the tavern operators came up with a suggestion for improving business. They suggested that Los Angeles County rescind its ordinance forbidding persons under twenty-one from dancing in any place where liquor is served. There could be no question of legalizing the service of liquor to persons under twenty-one, which is forbidden by state law. But rescinding the ordinance would at least permit the owners to admit “teen-agers”—usually for a minimum charge of $2.50—sell them soft drinks and provide them with the kind of music they enjoy, which would open up a totally new market. This was done, and the response was so promising that many of the tavern operators signed leases on their property for several years.
The youngsters who moved onto the Strip and into the clubs did no drinking and behaved very well on the whole. But they are the vanguard of Southern Californian youth, where the vanguard is quite far out, like a vanguard should be. Their dress and hair styles are “mod” in the extreme; The Byrds sing their music, and The Buffalo Springfield, and The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, and The Mothers of Invention. Most of the music is beautiful, though some of it is strange; and exactly this may be said of the youngsters themselves.
But as their numbers increased they brought trouble. Traffic along Sunset Boulevard slowed and sometimes halted, especially on week ends, less from the influx of youngsters than because of the curious and hostile tourists and family groups who came to stare—and sometimes to jeer and throw eggs—at them. National newsmagazines published colorful reports on the Strip in which the kids were featured as a new social problem. The local press established a presence with batteries of searchlights and mobile TV units, ready to report any dramatic event or, if none occurred, to incite one. The narrow sidewalks of Sunset Boulevard became crowded with youngsters who wanted to be where the action was but who lacked the funds or the inclination to lay out a succession of $2.50 entrance fees. They lounged and strolled along in a manner that the tourists who glared at them would have enjoyed as picturesque in a Mexican city where the corso is established custom; here, their elders enjoyed recoiling from them in a kind of squeamish panic almost as much.
As the situation developed, business began to fall off in Restaurant Row, whose adult customers had trouble driving to Scandia or The Marquis. Local shopkeepers who were not directly affected by the youngsters’ presence, since they were closed at night, nevertheless became anxious about the damage they thought the kids were doing to the area’s reputation; they had not, apparently, read Jane Jacobs with understanding. But how could the kids be turned off? They had the support of the tavern and coffee-house operators whose livelihood they had become; and these men were bound and protected by their leases. Moreover, at this point, the good behavior of the “teenyboppers” had become a problem. If they had been drinking or making a public nuisance of themselves they could have been abated easily enough. But they were neither hostile, nor aggressive, nor disorderly in their conduct; except by their sheer numbers and incidental economic impact they bothered nobody except people who are psychically disturbed by the sight of Youngsters in long hair and colorful clothing:
They only have respect for men in tailored suits
If you have long hair or are wear- ing boots
They think you’re doing something wrong!
the kids were to sing, with mournful detachment, when the police moved in and cracked down.
THE LEGAL BASIS on which the Sheriff’s Office began to act is County Ordinance 3611.1, which provides that “no person under the age of eighteen years shall loiter about any public street, avenue, alley, park or other public place” between 10 P.M. and sunrise unless accompanied by a parent, legal guardian, or spouse over twenty-one years old. The city of Los Angeles has a similar ordinance, and also has an ordinance forbidding loitering without reference to age or time of day; it is posted on a sign that greets every traveler who arrives at the airport. Loitering is defined as “to idle, to loaf, to stand idly by or to walk, drive, or ride about aimlessly and without purpose”—a definition that may well make the entire solar system illegal. Shortly after New Year’s, the County Board of Supervisors made the law tougher by adding a $500 fine, six months’ imprisonment, or both, applicable to parents or guardians of juveniles.
Through most of last fall, community pressure to crack down on “juvies” and get them off the Strip had mounted more rapidly than police action had responded. The weekly Los Angeles Free Press—one of the best and most aggressive of the loosely syndicated “underground press,” alleged in a detailed front-page story on October 28 that illustrations for a Los Angeles Times story published October 12 called “A Hard Day’s Night on the Strip,” showing sheriff’s deputies questioning suspected juveniles, had, in fact, been staged for the Times. The Sheriff’s Department, the Free Press said, had solicited the article from the Times “as an effective local counter to adverse criticism of the Department” in a recent Life magazine article devoted to the Strip.
The Free Press also dutifully reported that the Sheriff’s public relations office had denied its story. In any case, by mid-November, it was surely no longer necessary to stage exhibitions of police zeal. Sheriff’s deputies, assigned to the Strip in force, had been forcefully enforcing County Ordinance 3611.1. This ordinance, which I have quoted, presents unusual difficulties. Perhaps because of loose draftmanship, it fails to forbid persons of youthful appearance to exist between 10 P.M. and sunrise and forbids only their loitering in public places. Suspects must therefore be required to produce identification that reveals their age—a demand that has since been declared unconstitutional though juveniles have, in any case, no defensible constitutional rights and may not be affected by this decree. The law does not forbid anyone to attend a private party or any legitimate place of entertainment legally open to persons of their age, or to travel directly between such a place and their home, so long as he does not “ride about aimlessly and without purpose,” regardless of the hour. Nevertheless, many youngsters complain, police arrest them for loitering as soon as they leave a coffee house to go to their cars to drive home; and Los Angeles city police did certainly arrest—on a charge of “interfering in an arrest”—the fifty-seven-year-old Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California when he attempted to inform a youth that he need not produce the identification demanded. This arrest, moreover, occurred when the police entered a private hall where a rally to protest police action was in progress, in which the loitering ordinance could not conceivably have applied.
YOUNGSTERS ALSO FREQUENTLY allege police brutality in arrests. Whether police action constitutes brutality or merely indignity, what the police do is certainly objectionable. One tactic, repeatedly photographed on the Strip, is to stand behind the victim and thrust the billy club under his chin, grasping it at both ends and using it as a kind of garrotte to force his head back. Another, applicable only to long-haired youths, is to grasp their hair and twist their heads into position to be photographed. The following incident described by Malcolm Carter in the San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle of December 11 describes the way it is happening:
The police in action, however, were even more frightening. Seeing a cruiser with two deputies pull a car to the side, then follow the car off the Strip, I became curious. So I watched as the deputies ordered three 16 or 17 year olds out of their car, lean them against the vehicle for a thorough frisk and search the car [presumably for drugs] with a flashlight.
“With all due respect,” I said to the deputy watching his partner complete a citation, “but couldn’t that be considered an unreasonable search? Don’t you have to show cause?”
His answer: “I assume everyone has a weapon. That’s how I stay alive.”
This conversation took place after the boys, pale and obviously nervous, were lectured about breaking the rules and asked whether their parents knew where they were.
But another conversation was even stranger. On a street overlooking the Strip, Sheriff’s men had established a kind of command post. In the first cruiser, sat a deputy peering through binoculars. In a second car sat other men. But the third vehicle was the pivotal one. Their faces made grotesque by a powerful light source bouncing off the roof, four men made plans. Two of them huddled around a makeshift table in back, poring over mimeographed instructions and penciled notations.
“Can I help you?” a voice said. It was an officer eager to rid himself of intruders.
“No,” I said, “just looking.”
“This is a restricted area,” he declared.
“Restricted to whom?”
“To police and press.” Since I did not have a Los Angeles press card [Los Angeles does not issue temporary press cards to visiting journalists], he was not interested in my credentials as I stood there on the sidewalk looking at the Strip.
“I’d like to see a superior officer,” I said. He pointed to his stripes. So I asked him what constituted unreasonable search.
Through clenched teeth he answered, “I don’t interpret the laws; I just enforce ’em.”
On Saturday, November 12, real disorder erupted in a throng of at least a thousand people along the Strip who were protesting police action and expressing their anger at being driven from their scene. Considering the intensity of feeling that prevailed, it is remarkable that so little violence or property damage occurred. An adult threw a coke bottle through a liquor store window. There were, according to the Free Press of November 18:
a few fistfights between servicemen and Sunset Strip youth that took place at the beginning of the formation of the crowd, most provoked, I understand from eyewitnesses, by the servicemen. A few evaluations can be made. A total of not more than twenty or thirty persons were engaged in fighting or vandalism. There was not the wholesale rioting that the newspapers and mass media implied. The great majority of the teen-agers on the scene, at least one thousand by official count, were orderly and lawful, with the possible exception of creating a traffic jam by congregating in the streets.
But the traffic jam occasioned the only serious property damage—estimated at about $200, or roughly 5 per cent of that done later in the month by active, though clean-cut, university students protesting their football team’s failure to get invited to the Rose Bowl—that has yet occurred on the Strip. Two Los Angeles city buses were stalled by traffic on Sunset Boulevard. According to eyewitnesses, TV crews moved in on them then and began shouting to the youths to climb onto the buses and wave their placards so that they could be seen. They did; and the passengers and drivers, understandably disturbed, abandoned the buses. The TV crewmen then began to shout to the kids, “You’re not just going to stand there, are you? Do something!” and the youngsters began to rock the bus, scratch slogans on it, and ultimately to attempt—fortunately unsuccessfully—to set one of the empty buses on fire.
THIS, THE MOST WIDELY PUBLICIZED incident that has occurred on the Strip, was, in fact, a psuedo-event, involving a small number of youths whose behavior was highly atypical of their fellows on the scene, and whose immaturity had been deliberately utilized by the mass media to create a dramatic incident. But pseudo or not, reaction to the event followed immediately. Police surveillance and harassment tightened. The County Board of Supervisors revoked the order permitting persons under twenty-one to dance in clubs where liquor was served to adults. The license of Pandora’s Box, a coffee house owned and operated by former tennis star Bill Tilden, which catered entirely to teen-agers and young adults and had never served liquor, was canceled, and emergency action to condemn and demolish the building was begun, as part of a street realignment program that had been under way. The Los Angeles Times of November 30 reports the comments of City Councilman James B.Potter, Jr., who had moved the condemnation ordinance, on his visit to Pandora’s Box the previous Saturday evening:
“I found the place [Pandora’s Box] dirty and filthy,” Potter said. “Businessmen were crying that their rights were not being observed by the mobs. He [the owner of Pandora’s Box] made no effort to clear the people from his premises despite the fact that it caused a tremendous traffic problem.
“With all these people congregating there, it provided an explosive situation. It could have been very bad if somebody started something.
“Luckily, nobody did.”
Outside Pandora’s Box on this Saturday evening, November 26, somebody had started something. The people whom Mr. Tilden made no effort to clear from his premises were mostly refugees, rather than customers, who had been driven into Pandora’s Box by a police battue comparable to a medium-scale military operation. He himself was then arrested and his livelihood was destroyed; but he did not drive the youngsters from his property, which served them as a temporary haven. The scene on the Strip was confused, as the Los Angeles police moved up past Pandora’s Box to the county line just west of it while sheriff’s deputies swept Sunset Boulevard from the west. The November 28 Los Angeles Times reported that 150 Los Angeles policemen and 200 sheriff’s deputies had arrested sixty young adults and seven juveniles in an operation that lasted from 9 P.M. till 1:30 Sunday morning; and that those arrested had been protesting “a crackdown on the use of the strip by youths.” It continued:
The baton-wielding deputies executed a new tactic in helping disperse the crowd of 1,500 persons, many of them curious passersby.
They invoked a county loitering ordinance against demonstrators who blocked sidewalks for more than 15 minutes and refused to move on. Previous tactics were to arrest juveniles for violation of the 10 P.M. curfew.
About 200 youths protested the loitering arrests, saying they violated their constitutional rights of peaceful assembly.
But the report broadcast from the scene at the time, by a reporter for Los Angeles radio station KPFK, though harder to follow, presented a less complacent picture, According to this, shortly before 10 P.M. sheriff’s deputies cruising in sound trucks began warning juveniles to return home or face prosecution for curfew violation. Meanwhile, Los Angeles police had sealed off Sunset Boulevard at the east end of the Strip. Just after ten, the deputies began checking ID’S: draft cards, drivers’ licenses, or a curious special document Los Angeles juveniles who have neither are required to carry. While official statements maintain that the “curfew” ordinance is not enforced selectively against individuals, observers agree that youngsters with long hair and colorful attire are invariably “busted” first; if there are enough of these to tax the capacity of the operation the Law has mounted, less conspicuous youths may escape detection.
WHILE THE “JUVIES” were being rousted, and many of the people on the Strip were crowding around the Sheriff’s sound trucks to hear their orders, one side of Sunset Boulevard was being sealed off, as the east end of the Strip already had been. Then, over the sound trucks, the people were ordered to “disperse.” In fact, they were not even permitted to cross Sunset Boulevard at most points. Most could not return to their cars; indeed, the area was so congested that many could not move at all. Those who were lucky enough to find themselves caught in front of the property of a sympathetic café-owner forced their way inside and found sanctuary, as Councilman Potter complained. But most, of course, did not; some found their way barred from parking lots and the normally public courtyard of a local, privately supported art museum by armed guards. Some of those who could not find a way out of the area were arrested for loitering in it; others who could not get across the street in the crowds before the light changed at the few intersections where they were allowed to try were arrested for jaywalking.
The Los Angeles Free Press for December 2—its first issue after November 26—also presents a different picture of “the baton-wielding deputies” referred to in the Los Angeles Times:
Suddenly, with no provocation, a mass of Deputies charged the pedestrians around the front of the Fifth Estate [a coffee house whose manager has given his young clients their staunchest support, and who has also produced a film called Blue Fascism, which does not support his local police]. People were viciously clubbed and beaten. There was no plan or purpose evident in the beatings or the subsequent arrests. It seemed the handiest people, with no regard given to age, sex, or social position, were clubbed, kicked, punched and/or arrested.
This episode was witnessed by a large group of major news media representatives. At the scene, these “working journalists” expressed great indignation and concern over the behavior of the Sheriff’s Deputies. But their indignation was not conveyed to their audiences, except in the case of unedited films shown on TV.
But three successive week ends of terror on the Strip had begun to arouse the city. The American Civil Liberties Union had sent observers—including, as has been noted, its local Executive Director—to the Strip. An informal alliance of clergymen convened by the Reverend Ross Greek of the West Hollywood Presbyterian Church, which is located just east of the Strip on Sunset Boulevard, began going out to stand with the youngsters, listen to them—though the clergymen hardly understood their language—and be present as witnesses to their encounters with the police. Rather to the clergy’s astonishment, the kids received them gratefully.
Ordinary citizens, and some not so ordinary, also began to show their feelings. One of us (Bernhard) reported of the taxi driver who drove him to the Strip early the following Saturday evening, December 3:
He was the parent of some teenagers who apparently hung out on the Strip quite often. He identified me immediately because of my hair which though long is not terribly long and asked me if I was going to be up on the Strip that night. I said I didn’t know—I didn’t know whether anything was happening, and I asked him what he thought. He said he thought that there wasn’t going to be much happening that night, but that he thought the police were being very unjust and were taking away the rights of the kids. He wasn’t quite sure what rights were being usurped, but he seemed to feel that in some way the kids were being gypped of something they deserved. He was speaking as a parent, and he seemed to have some kind of emotional understanding of the kids.
So did another parent, encountered on foot on the Strip much later in the evening: a middle-aged, high-heeled woman with piles of bleached-blonde hair, who teetered valiantly ahead toward where the action was, her breast thrust forward, partly in determination. “I have a boy along here somewhere,” she confided. “I’m not trying to find him; he’d die if he knew I was here at all. But I have to see what they’re doing to the kids!”
IT IS HARD TO SAY what the total experience is doing to the kids who, in any case, are of course diverse in their response and their character. But there is a characteristic air that many of them seem to share, at least when you meet them on the Strip. There is hardly any hostility towards adults—even towards the police. One policeman on duty New Year’s Eve in front of the now derelict Pandora’s Box stood looking at a group of “teeny-boppers” who had nevertheless gathered as usual for a time on the worn dirt lot in front of it. His face, for some reason, fell suddenly into a warm smile; and the kids at once began to greet him with equally warm cries of “Happy New Year.” But usually they are neither friendly nor hostile; they are open, but wary, like deer in a forest which they have learned to assume is dominated, though not exclusively inhabited, by predatory animals. They are as I imagine Ariel would have become if Caliban had come to reign instead of Prospero. He has; this is just what has happened in Southern California, which, since last November’s elections, dominates the whole state and affects the university system as well. And Caliban is not a very satisfactory embodiment of lawful authority. As you walk along the Strip on a week-end evening a sense of terror quietly develops. As it mounts, you comfort yourself with the thought that comes naturally to anyone who assumes that what he lives in is a community: if anybody pushes you around, you can always call a cop. In a moment—a bad moment—the fallacy of this reasoning comes to mind. Thereafter, you keep an ear cocked as you stroll along chatting with the kids, without quite realizing what you are listening for. But it is a simple sign; when the sound of motorcycles drops, it means that the police have dismounted and are going through the crowd on foot, clubs in hand; you look around for friendly private property.
There’s somethin’ happening here,
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there
A’tellin’ me I got to beware—I think it’s time to
—Stop! Children, What’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
There’s battle lines being drawn
nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Are gittin’ so much resistance from behind. Families—
Stop! Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.*
sings Stephen Stillis in “For What It’s Worth”: a poignant, unearthly song by The Buffalo Springfield.
Several of the ministers who walk the Strip to watch over the kids are hardened veterans of the civil rights movement. No one has been killed on the Strip, as Mr. Reeb was in Alabama; but in one way the Strip is worse. In Selma, you could always tell yourself that things were better at home; but Los Angeles is home. Alabama, one assumes, is the product of a benighted, segregated social system. But Los Angeles is American democracy in action.
American democracy in action has its own processes of healing and reconstruction, and some of these are at work along the Strip. Al Mitchell, manager of the Fifth Estate, has organized and is chairman of a militant committee called RAMCOM—Right of Assembly and Movement Committee—to hold demonstrations and inform the public that the youngsters on the Strip are not hoodlums, but fellow citizens whose rights are in jeopardy. RAMCOM, however, has been rather quickly outstripped by the more moderate and much better financed committee called CAFF—Community Action for Facts and Freedom—chaired by Jim Dickson, manager of the Byrds. Fred Rosenberg, owner of The Marquis and President of the Sunset Strip Restaurant Association, has issued conciliatory statements. Members of all three groups have met together under the sponsorship of the Los Angeles County Delinquency and Crime Commission, to implement a truce initiated, rather uncertainly, by RAMCOM, which covered the holiday period when much larger numbers of youngsters than usual might have been on the Strip, heightening the probability of disorder; but also heightening their chances of victory.
THE TRUCE WAS LARGELY successful: there was not much action of any kind on the Strip over the holidays. But the prognosis is not good; disorder may have been averted, but that, it appears, could have been accomplished merely by restraining police action in the first place. And the chances of greater freedom and dignity for the Strippies, which is the major issue, look bad. The meetings held by the Delinquency and Crime Commission were closed. Even the decision to refer the matter to a Commission on Crime and Delinquency rather than to the Human Relations Commission, which was likewise available, prejudices the case against the youngsters. The action of the County Board of Supervisors in toughening the loitering law while the truce was in effect violates the spirit of the truce, which, in any case, has now expired. RAMCOM is planning more demonstrations and not just on the Strip; for the youngsters have been talking about spreading out and moving on into the nearby San Fernando Valley, where the whole cycle will probably begin again with fresh protagonists. Similar events, though on a smaller scale, have been going on around Greater Los Angeles all the while, anyway.
Things will surely get worse unless California develops a system of authority that does more than demand obedience—that commands respect. And it probably won’t: the potential just doesn’t seem to be present in the culture. Concrete proposals tend to run the other way. A local paper that serves the West Hollywood area has been urging that the district be incorporated, so that it could have its own police who would not be subject to the restraints bureaucracy imposes on the Los Angeles city and county officials and could really rough the kids up; one issue proposed that they be shot down with machine guns. One tends to dismiss this sort of thing as psycho-ceramic nonsense; but at the heart of Governor Reagan’s current legislative package is a bill which would rescind existing legislation that forbids any local jurisdiction from imposing more severe penalties for any offense than those provided under state law. The stated purpose of the Governor’s bill is precisely to strengthen the hand of local authorities to deal with what they regard as specially severe local problems. No comparable protection for individuals who become the objects of law enforcement is contemplated; though it seems clear that those who become the special focus of police concern sometimes need it; and not only Strippies. A bartender who was arrested during a raid on his bar by plain-clothes members of the Los Angeles vice squad just after the stroke of New Year’s and subsequently booked was so badly injured in the process that he has since died, thus avoiding the necessity of defending himself against the felony charge of assaulting an officer. Mr. Reagan has made his determination to clean up Berkeley and, presumably, the rest of the State clear; but in his own New Year’s inaugural statement he also stated that he intended to conduct the affairs of the State as nearly as possible as the Prince of Peace might have done it. Yet the Prince of Peace was sometimes obliged to make professional visits among the despised and rejected of society; and on these occasions He behaved rather differently from the vice squad.
Yet it would be misleading to consider that the present social climate in California affects only the young, the deviant, and those otherwise helpless. What is operative on our scene is a basic disrespect for human dignity, and a capricious and petulant use of power, which cannot be tolerated in any society that hopes to be democratic. Historically, we have taken the simultaneous appearance of gross abuses of minorities and gross instability of status to be the very signs of fascism, whether Western or Stalinist. These social symptoms, when they occur together, transcend in their tragic significance the human weaknesses and possibly confused motives of the individuals involved in them. That the president of the largest university in the world, which lays claim to greatness, should be dismissed after fifteen years of service in that office and previously as Chancellor of the Berkeley Campus, without regard to his intellectual distinction, administrative ability, or virtually unquestioning devotion to the policies set down by the Regents is incredible. But that he should be kicked out without so much as a day’s notice, without consultation with any member of the university community, whether administrator, faculty member, or student, violates not only his rights and ours, but the very idea of social structure itself, quite apart from the question of Clark Kerr’s enormous strengths and few—though occasionally serious—weaknesses.
We are no society here; we are here, as on a darkling plain, swept by confused alarms of struggle and flight. Arnold applies; but the idiom of the Buffalo Springfield is sharper and clearer:
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, The Man come and
take you away You better—
Stop! Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.
March 9, 1967