Fear of a Hip-Hop Planet

We were hovering near a sausage stand at Qualcomm Stadium sometime during the third quarter of the Dec. 8 San Diego Chargers-Oakland Raiders game. It was 20-7 Oakland, but the score was the last thing on our minds. Instead, we found better entertainment watching the seemingly endless parade of cops who marched packs of handcuffed, drunken slobs down a dark tunnel into a holding area. The colors we saw were positively psychedelic: a freshly punched nose that dripped a trail of deep crimson blood; shirts and jeans soaked in their wearers' newly puked-up stomach contents, favoring lovely pastel shades of pink and green; ears and jaws smashed into purple pulp; eyes beaten black and brown. In the stands, swarms of red-jacketed security folk told us when there was trouble happening—and trouble happened, it seemed, about every two minutes. As we boarded the trolley after the game to head back to our car, some cretin a few bodies away started a shoving match, and the police dragged him away. There were more than 120 arrests that afternoon. But you'd scarcely know that from reading Monday's sports pages. The Times blurbed the arrests as a throwaway line seven grafs in. The Register reporter stuck to the game and didn't mention the arrests at all. (We won't even get into the San Diego Union-Tribune, which took a cheery spin on the violence in a story headlined "Fans clash, but not too much.")

Compare such non-coverage with what resulted from brawling crowds at the KKBT Summer Jam in August at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Reports said some 50 "gang members" ripped metal pipes from a scaffolding and started beating one another. There were some 60 arrests and citations during the day—mostly for minor stuff like pot possession, fence jumping and misuse of handicapped parking. A not-exactly-whopping three people were injured. Yet as they often do when crowd violence happens at concerts—particularly rap concerts—the Times and Register worked themselves into a lather of blather. Not only were there day-after stories in the Register's news section, but there were also follow-up pieces two days later in both papers making predictable analyses of what happened, always laced with a tinge of impending disaster. "The gang fight that broke out Sunday . . . probably won't prevent future hip-hop shows from occurring there, a venue spokesman said," wrote the Reg's Richard Chang. "But the melee has left some wondering about the future of live hip-hop in the county." (In a terminal case of overkill, the Reg had seven reporters and contributors covering this story at various points.) "A Setback for Live Hip-Hop" screeched the Times story headline, which ran on the front page of the Calendar section, and continued, "A melee forces evacuation of Summer Jam, the latest concert to be troubled by audience violence."

When sports fans get rowdy, it's no big deal. Two years ago at a Chargers-Raiders game, one fan was stabbed and nearly killed. Leopoldo Bastida was killed after being stabbed in the Edison Field parking lot after Game 7 of the World Series. But reporters weren't writing stories that questioned whether pro sports should be canceled in Orange County. At Qualcomm, the fists were flying, but the game wasn't halted once, and—unlike the Summer Jam—certainly wasn't stopped hours early. Which is why you're still safer at a hip-hop show than an NFL game.

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