The Worst Punk Week Ever
Can anybody stop the chaos?
by James Leonard
City officials say the ninth annual Punk Week was the worst ever.
"It was bad last year, and it was worse this year," says city administrator Roger Fraser. "We've got a problem with a group of unruly youths who seem to be quite willing to live outside of societal norms."
"This time they decided to take it to a new level," says police chief Barnett Jones. "Sleeping, urinating, and defecating on people's sidewalks, lawns, and even backyards."
Local punks agree--though they're coming from a slightly different perspective.
"Last year, thirty to forty people showed up [from out of town]," my son John told me. A recent WCC grad and a former resident of 733 North Main, aka the Rock House, he was one of Punk Week's unofficial organizers. "This year, it was more like fifty to sixty--and more people in a group together get stupider quicker."
The Rock House and the house next door at 111 W. Summit, aka the Meat Mansion, were the epicenter of the August events. "Most of the people who came were good people who just wanted to have fun," says Margot Reynolds, a U-M creative writing major and former resident of the Meat Mansion. "But some people came here to get blackout drunk, pee their pants, and pass out in my backyard."
For the last eight years, city officials largely turned a blind eye to Punk Week. Police ignored the Zombie Walk--punks shambling down Main Street made up as the walking dead--and winked at the Shopping Cart Race--punks racing customized shopping carts en masse down Ashley Street at midnight. "Last year we got the calls about the shopping cart races, and we laughed," says Jones.
The race wasn't a problem this year, either. "Five to six hundred people showed up for the race, fifty to one hundred raced, and the cops did what they've done the four years I've gone: ten minutes before, they parked their cars near the finish line and on all the streets leading up
to it," says John. "They didn't do anything during the race, and after it was finished, they shooed us away."
An impromptu cookout at Bandemer Park on Sunday had a worse ending: the AAPD arrested eight punks. "They were violating some of our own rules on personal behavior," says Fraser. According to a police report, other park users complained about drinking, marijuana smoking, nudity, and people having sex in public. "An officer tried to get them to disband, and he was assaulted and knocked down," says Fraser. "The officers attempted to arrest the people involved, and it escalated some."
Jones says he can't discuss the incident "because we've got an internal investigation because of the videos." Blurry phone-camera images made by the punks and published on AnnArbor.com show police putting a young woman in the back of their squad car. When they walk away, her friends release her. A cop runs after and catches her, forces her to the ground while handcuffing her, then lifts her by the cuffs and strong-arms her back to his car.
The cookout wasn't organized by the local punks, and those arrested were "travelers," punks visiting town for Punk Week. All were later released, their punishment the time they spent in the Washtenaw County Jail (see box, below).
According to John, out-of-towners also broke into an empty house, and "somebody slashed tires in the neighborhood. It was somebody who had gotten kicked out, somebody who pissed us off--most of the things that pissed everybody else off, pissed us off too."
Reynolds sticks up for the local punks--tarring them for the visitors' misdeeds, she says, would be like blaming the U-M for every drunken tailgate party.
"We're not a menace," she stresses. "We're your waitresses and your janitors. We all live here, some of us grew up here, and nobody minds us when we're doing our jobs and supporting Ann Arbor businesses. They only notice us when we all get together, and nobody was bothered by us until those assholes came to town."
The residents of the Meat House moved out after Punk Week, complaining of conflicts with their landlords and housing code violations. But Reynolds didn't go far--just next door to the Rock House.
The Rock House passed its city inspection on September 1, and seems to be here to stay. "Our house has become Yasgur Farm [the site of Woodstock]," laughs landlord Jim Fleming. "It's the first time in thirty-five years that I've bumped into people who represent the hippie culture!
"As far as I'm concerned, the people there have been responsible and respectful," says Fleming, whose company books tours for folk-punk goddess Ani DiFranco and other musicians.
But even if the Rock House survives, will Punk Week? "Nobody's happy about the way it worked out," says John. "Not many people have said they're hot to do another one.
"I can't imagine the city will let us do it next year," he adds. "But even if we don't, next year it'll be bigger than this one because of word of mouth."
Fraser says he is already preparing by looking at "modification of the code as regards loitering and panhandling downtown and what goes on in the parks." And Chief Jones says that he'd like to see organizers pull permits for future Shopping Cart Races.
"If we're going to sanction this, let's do it the right way," says Jones.
If John and his friends don't get those permits, it's hard to see who will. But Jones doesn't think complying with the rules will necessarily mean the end of Punk Week. "Nor would I want it to be," he adds. "Punk Week is part of the culture of Ann Arbor."
[Originally published in October, 2010.]