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[whitespace] Low marks for high spirits

Campbell--Chemical Free Zone, known to turn a few heads with its assortment of punk bands and pierced teenagers, gained even more notice last week. Organizers and Campbell police officials vowed to tighten security following two isolated incidents at Chemical Free Zone on the April 21. The weekly teen event is alcohol-, drug- and tobacco-free, and is hosted by the Lighthouse of Silicon Valley church, which, like the Chemical Free Zone, rents a room in the Campbell Community Center.

The incidents dampened efforts by organizers who have worked hard to secure a permanent and safe teen venue. The Chemical Free Zone opens its doors to 150 to 250 Campbell and South Bay teens every Friday night, for a $5 admission donation. It is one of the few havens left for teenagers. Another popular teen night-spot, The Edge in Palo Alto, recently announced that it will be converted into a jazzy, 21-and-over supper club.

At about 8:21 p.m. on Friday, at the Campbell Community Center, a teen described by police as in his mid-teens was reprimanded for bringing a cap gun to the show. The teen intended to bring the toy gun on stage. As his band was set to play, the teen went outside and held the gun in the air, telling everyone to go inside before he began shooting, according to the police report.

Lighthouse pastor Terry Johnson and his wife, Cheryl Johnson, run the Chemical Free Zone with parents, church members and volunteers. The Johnsons were both present on the night of the two incidents. Cheryl said that the teen had asked one of the security guards for permission to use the toy gun that night.

"They said okay for inside the show," said Cheryl about the security guards, who are usually parents, church members, patrons or band members that volunteer to chaperone the event. "They should have asked us. If anyone ever asks to do anything like that, they should have asked us."

She added that no one had ever brought a cap gun for entertainment value before. There is plenty of enforcement to abate such nuisances, however. Campbell police officers patrol around the community center often and routinely check in on the event every Friday evening. According to the police report, officers confiscated the gun and reprimanded the teen.

"He was very despondent," said Cheryl on Thursday about the teen. "He thought it was a joke. He said he didn't know that he was going to get in trouble. He thought it was funny."

Cheryl doubted he would return after Friday's incident.

"I'm not expecting him to be here again," she said. "He's been coming before by himself without the band."

The second incident, involving a 15-year-old San Jose teen, occurred three hours later at about 11:30 p.m. After being warned to stop shoving others in the mosh pit area, the teen "started shoving the security guard," said Cheryl, who witnessed the incident.

"They [the security guards] tried to get him on the ground," Cheryl said. "It took about six people to hold him on the ground."

Everyone tried to calm the teen down so they could at least talk in a civil manner. Cheryl said he agreed, and stood up, only to start kicking and swinging his arms and legs. He kicked a security guard in the groin, who then punched the teen in the eye, causing a lump. Asked if security guards are allowed to retaliate, Cheryl said that the guard was merely reacting to the teen.

"It was a reflex," Cheryl said. "We were trying to get the guy down. He wasn't stopping. I don't expect anyone to stand there and be kicked in the groin and just stand there. No one's going to do that."

Neither the boy or the security guard requested prosecution.

The incidents galvanized Cheryl and city officials, even though Cheryl said that there have only been about three to four incidents since January. Few incidents have been reported since the Johnsons moved the Chemical Free Zone to Campbell two-and-a-half years ago.

"We do have a solid core of teens that come," Cheryl said. "The fact that we've been operating for two-and-a-half years without a lot of incidents is a major miracle in itself."

To keep the peace, every band that plays at the Chemical Free Zone must adhere to their policy: no profanity, no drugs, no alcohol. There are also rules for moshing, or slam dancing, posted on the door: no punching; no kicking; no swinging anyone around or throwing one another; no piggy back rides or carrying one another; no crowd surfing; no chairs allowed; no lying or sitting on the floor; no spikes or dangerous jewelry allowed; no overly aggressive pushing. Disobey any of the rules, and a security guard asks the teen to stop or leave the mosh pit. The rules are necessary evils, and most teenagers comply, Cheryl said.

"It's not our style of dancing, if that's what you want to call it, but we decided it's fun," said Cheryl in a May 1999 Campbell Reporter cover story about the Chemical Free Zone. "We're just trying to put ourselves in their place. We are determined to break down the generational walls."

In the wake of recent events, Cheryl told Campbell city officials and police that she would beef up security for the April 28 event by hiring a reserve police officer. It didn't happen. She was informed late Thursday afternoon, April 27, that police Capt. Russ Patterson, Campbell City Manager Bernie Strojny and director of Recreation and Community Services Claudia Cauthorn had decided against it at a meeting.

"We're going to try and use existing staff," said Campbell police Chief Dave Gullo, explaining the decision not to outfit the event with a reserve officer. "Assigning a police officer is not necessarily an answer."

Gullo said that his department will continue to provide safety for the Chemical Free Zone. Officers will continue to patrol the area, and Campbell Security Officers (CSO)--who are employed by the Campbell police department, have marked cars and wear police uniforms, but are not armed--will be present at the Chemical Free Zone.

There were certain conditions and concerns brought to the attention of the Johnsons, however. Cauthorn met with Cheryl last Friday and proposed that they do away with the mosh pit; relocate to a larger room in the community center, perhaps to the Orchard City banquet hall; and adopt a policy of no in-and-out privileges to curb noise and altercations, and to appease neighbors who might complain about the two issues. Cheryl complied and has promised to cooperate at every juncture.

The Johnsons and their corps of volunteers understand that at stake is the preservation of space where teenagers can congregate, dance, and hear their favorite bands, many of whom aren't old enough to play in bars or clubs. She said that these isolated incidents spoil the goal of Lighthouse, and noted that the recent outbreaks are a result of small groups wanting to antagonize others.

"We really need to weed out the kids that regularly cause problems for us," Johnson said. "We tend to give people a lot of chances. It's a real delicate situation and we're dealing with a difficult age group."
Genevieve Roja

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