I spent Saturday night -- and the wee small hours of Sunday morning -- riding shotgun with a certain Barking Dog as he kept watch over his favorite "scumbars," as he likes to call them. And I got a little more than I'd bargained for: a nose and throat full of pepper courtesy the Dallas Police Department -- specifically, one officer who fired some 13 rounds of "pepper balls" over the heads of patrons who were simply leaving a few of the so-called bad bars on the west side of Lowest Greenville. It was just after the clubs' 2 a.m. close, and as the plastic of the red pepper balls shattered against the facade of 180 Degrees, the remnants of which you can see above, they rained a white powdery cloud of the irritant on to the crowd.
Said one witness, the officer "blew on the barrel like he's in the Wild West." But this wasn't some sort of town-square stand-off. And the crowd wasn't rowdy. The incident was, in fact, out-of-nowhere: A stream of patrons -- most young, many Hispanic -- were streaming out of overcrowded clubs and onto a narrow overcrowded sidewalk. About a dozen officers shouted: "Move it!! Hurry up!! Move it along!!" At which point: Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.
I'd seen the officer with the pepper-ball gun (it looks like something you'd use in paintball) arrive a few minutes before the shooting started. He was positioned about a block north, close to where three squad cars had parked next to EZ Pawn.
By 2:01, he and a dozen other officers had positioned themselves in front of Malibu Bar and 180. Clubgoers exiting one sensory-overload experience (thumping bass, strobe lights) were greeted by another (a wall of officers yelling and waving their flashlights). At 2:08 a.m. a female officer yelled, "Go home or go to jail!! That means y'all!!" She stuck her flashlight in the startled eyes of three young Hispanic girls who'd just exited the club. At which point, the officer with the gun fired the red pellets into the storefront above 180.
The officers got out of the way. Patrons, though, walked straight out of the club and into the stinging cloud.
"It hurts fuckin' bad!!" said Kimberly, 26, as she hurried away, using her hot-pink dress to wipe away the tears filling her bloodshot eyes. She was among those who walked out of Club 180 and straight into the pepper cloud, which spread up and down Greenville.
"I'm pissed," said Chris Cook, partner and general manager of Greenville Avenue Pizza Co., who was two doors down in the pizza shop when the cop fired off the pepper balls. "I'm fucking pissed. I'm trying to run a business, and instead I had to run to the back of the restaurant. I couldn't breath. ... Near as I can tell, it was totally uncalled for."
There had been no violence before the shooting. No shouting. No breaking of bottles. No nothing except some dudes wobbling around kinda bleary-eyed making their way to their cars and pretty young girls hollering, "Where's the after-party!!?"
Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, in front of The Cavern, more than 20 people lingered till well past 2:30 in the morning while officers manned the "outpost" just across Greenville (there were half dozen or so squad cars and a paddy wagon blocking off Alta Avenue in front of Taco Cabana). Those clubgoers weren't greeted by officers with flashlights. There were no officers yelling at them go home or shooting pepper balls at them.
"That was excessive," said Avi Adelman just as the smoke was clearing.
Adelman says he's seen the same officer shouldering the pepper ball gun the past three or four weekends, but that the incident we witnessed was the first he'd seen or heard of it being used.
I spent all of Sunday trying to get an explanation from the Dallas police. Messages were left; none returned. But we did get our hands on the Lower Greenville crime report Sgt. Philip Braun sends to neighborhood associations and council members, among others, each weekend. It says nothing about pepper balls:
Friday July 2, 2010
Six citations were issued for open container. Two citations were issued for urinating in public. One person was arrested on a traffic stop for unlawful carrying of a weapon.
Saturday July 3, 2010
Five arrests were made for public intoxication. One arrest was made for outstanding warrants. The fire inspector issued a citation to: 180, Pussycat, and Shade for over-capacity.