Police On My Back
Is the Costa Mesa Police Department, in its zeal to protect the public, slandering OC bands by branding them "Nazis" or "skinheads" when they're nothing of the kind?
That's the question in the wake of a canceled July 10 show by local punkers U.S. Bombs. The band was set to play a record-release party for the group's latest disc, The World, at Kona Lanes, a Harbor Boulevard bowling alley. Tickets had been sold for the all-ages show, and everything seemed in order—until July 7. That's when Costa Mesa police Sergeant Clay Epperson approached Kona Lanes management and told them the show could not go on. The reason: Epperson allegedly asserted that U.S. Bombs is a Nazi band, citing as evidence an event flier depicting a shaven-headed, skanking youth. Epperson also told promoters they didn't have the right permits, and the show was pulled.
Scott Tucker, the promoter who booked the U.S. Bombs show at Kona Lanes, admits he may not have had his paperwork in order, but, he says, he had booked shows at the venue last summer under the exact same permits, and there had never been any problems with police before. He says the cancellation cost him and U.S. Bombs about $4,000, as well as a Muffs gig that had to be moved.
Tucker says he eventually contacted Epperson in an effort to get to the bottom of things.
"The first thing he asked me was, 'Do [U.S. Bombs] have a Nazi following?' I said they didn't," says Tucker, who is Jewish. "Then he said he had one of our fliers advertising the show and that it depicted a Nazi skinhead on it. It was really just a generic bald guy skanking. I told him that if he was targeting everyone with a shaved head, that would make a lot of cops and military guys Nazis. He really didn't like that."
Tucker says Epperson then claimed the promoter hadn't hired enough security for the show, to which Tucker replied that he had hired 10 men from a licensed and bonded agency. Tucker says Epperson then told him he didn't have the proper permits, that he had spoken to the owner of Kona Lanes, "and your show is canceled, so it's a moot point, anyway."
According to Tucker, Epperson also charged that the band had "wrecked" Club Mesa the last time they played there. But Craig McGahey, who promotes shows at Club Mesa, denies any problems with U.S. Bombs or their fans.
Epperson denies Tucker's version of events and says the show was canceled simply because of invalid permits. "This had nothing to do with [U.S. Bombs'] music," Epperson says. Representatives from Kona Lanes refused to comment.
Costa Mesa police have a long history of clashes with punkers, stretching back to the late '70s, when officers were frequently called to separate punks from the Cuckoo's Nest and shitkickers from the country bar next door. Eventually, city officials closed the Cuckoo's Nest, running punk rock out of town.
Serious brawls between punk fans and Nazi skinheads aren't unheard of, but the last serious incident was a December 1994 stabbing at a Vandals show at the long-since-shuttered Ice House in Fullerton.
Though the punk scene is calmer now, municipalities remain vigilant. "Cops are in here all the time," says McGahey. "They were in here during the Fear show. They check our permits constantly. This lady cop comes in here all the time and says that we're her 'project.' She also seems to know what's going on around town, asking if we're expecting crowds after the Offspring show or after the Warped tour gets out." Just a week before the scheduled U.S. Bombs show, Costa Mesa police were reportedly in Club Mesa asking if another local punk group, the Pushers, were a Nazi/skinhead band (they're not).
Though this may seem like blatant harassment—and some Club Mesa regulars are certain it is—McGahey stresses that he doesn't feel that way, that it's just part of a cop's job.
But other police departments seem to have different approaches when it comes to the club scene. While Anaheim cops have largely steered clear of the hardcore and krusty-punk shows Chain Reaction has hosted in its nearly two-year history, and Fullerton police don't appear to have any problems with the newly reopened Backalley, workers at the diversely booked Koo's Art Cafe in Santa Ana have said undercover cops used to frequent their club, keeping an eye on things, though not any time recently.
U.S. Bombs, meanwhile, have moved beyond the "Nazi" branding incident and seem content with just getting out on the road to push the new album. "I don't know where that [Nazi-band charge] comes from," says bassist Wade Walston. "Our guitar player, Kerry Martinez, is Mexican. I think they just used the word 'Nazi' as a scare tactic, as a weapon to shut the show down without any basis. I don't know what right they have to do that. There was security at the show, and if there had been fights, they would have been stopped. I don't think they really want any [all-ages] shows in Costa Mesa, which is too bad for the kids and parents. They need a place to go."
"Punk's always been about unity," says U.S. Bombs singer Duane Peters. "We got two different races in the band, but there's so much racial paranoia out there you don't know what's going on. There's so much crap you gotta blow off."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.