Cruising for a Bruising

The guy barreling this way has been in trouble before. Maybe as recently as five, 10 minutes ago. He's a handful, 6 feet and change, 200 pounds of biceps and beer belly barely contained by his tight white T-shirt. Which is clearly splattered with blood.

The red stain appears to be a recent addition to his wardrobe, a last-minute accessory. Whether the blood belongs to him or someone else is a toss-up. Either way, he looks as though he wouldn't mind adding to his collection before he calls it a night.

"Why don't you pick on someone who can fight back?" he asks as he nears the small group of police and security officers at the corner of Main and Crowdus and the man in handcuffs at their feet. He speaks with his shoulders as much as his mouth, foolishly attempting to bully seven people with plenty of guns and very little patience. Smart money says the blood on his shirt is his own.

Before he can do something even more stupid, he's being shoved down the street by the first officer who can lock onto one of his meaty arms. He disappears into the quickly assembled crowd of onlookers, the people lined up for this impromptu street-corner performance. For them, this is nothing new. Handcuffs and hot tempers are like honey in Deep Ellum. Everyone wants a taste.

This is the real draw in Deep Ellum these days. Thousands of people roam the streets on this hot, breezy Friday in the middle of July. You might assume this means business is booming. It's not. It's down as much as 30, 40 percent, retailers say. The people who come to Deep Ellum may be bringing plenty of money to the area, but for the most part, it stays in their pockets. They don't go to see bands or dance at the clubs, grab a bite at one of the restaurants, knock back a few at one of the bars. Most of them are too young to get in anyway. No, they're here to check out the sights--the bikers parked over on Elm, the tricked-out rides creeping down Commerce, the drunks being cuffed and stuffed on Main. If that's not enough action for them, they make their own.

That's why the encounter at Main and Crowdus could have been worse--for everyone involved. You'd expect worse, based on the stories making the rounds: the tales of brawls flaring up without warning or provocation, the women being harassed by strange men, groped by strange hands, the stick-up kids looking for easy marks. These aren't merely stories. John "Beard" Brewer, who's been working the door at Club Dada off and on for 16 years, says violence and harassment are worse than they've ever been, worse even than when skinheads ruled the streets in the late '80s. All of the above has happened at some point this summer. Some of it has even happened tonight.

There were, for example, those three women half an hour ago. They're easy to remember. They would have stood out anyway. All of the other women here--girls really, too young to qualify--are straight out of a father's nightmare, a generation of daddy's little girls sauntering up and down the block in barely street-legal shorts and tops that leave only a few details to the imagination. And everything with a Y chromosome is trying to uncover those details. Even a cop riding shotgun in a Dallas Police Department paddy wagon openly stares south of one girl's border as she strolls toward Good-Latimer Expressway.

These three are different--a woman and her younger sisters, or maybe they're her daughters. Hard to tell. They wear flowing, fluorescent-colored knee-length dresses, and the youngest--or shortest, at any rate--has her hair wrapped in a swatch of matching fabric, as though she just walked off the set of an Erykah Badu video in 1997. The women are beautiful and elegant, the last adjective setting them apart more than anything else. Except for maybe this: They're furious.

Five minutes before officers from Texas Proforce--a security firm contracted by the Deep Ellum Association to help patrol the area--arrived in front of Lazerz, a dance club on Main, the women were the victims of the kind of random harassment that has everyone in Deep Ellum on edge. A group of five or so young men walked by and yanked on the oldest woman's hair. "You just don't do that to a woman!" she snaps to no one in particular. She is wild-eyed and shaken as she scans the crowd, searching for her assailant. She won't find him tonight, and even if she does, her night has been ruined. Another customer lost.

The man who pulled her hair was black. The guy mouthing off to the cops was white. The people arrested tonight, most for public intoxication, form a rainbow coalition of petty criminals and drunken loudmouths, all races and subcultures represented. The problem Deep Ellum is facing at the moment, and for the past year or so, isn't black or white. It's not even blue--you can't walk too far without seeing someone from the Dallas Police Department or Texas Proforce.

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