If you watched 20/20 Downtown on Thursday night, maybe you know a bit about the story. It's a story about a young man named Brian Deneke, killed in the prime of his life for absolutely no good reason. It's a common story really. Too common. You see, Brian was a punk. He looked different, he dressed different, he listened to different music. For the life of me I will never understand why this means he should have to die.
This is the story as I know it. I'm not claiming to be an expert and am only relaying it how I heard it. In 1997, Brian and a group of his friends liked to hang out at a local IHOP and drink coffee, talk, basically hang out. The workers there were quoted as saying they were all really nice kids who never caused any trouble. A rival group of kids, jocks, tended to harass the punks (about their clothes and hair, about how none of them had cars and had to walk everywhere, how they couldn't afford new clothes, etc.). It happens all the time, it's part of being a kid. It's when it goes too far, like it did on December 12, 1997, that bad things happen. Evidently there was a lot of taunting, I'm sure by both groups of kids, when suddenly one of the jocks... Dustin Camp got into his Cadillac and ran Brian Deneke over. Brian's head and chest were crushed.
More appalling than a kid dying during a fight with a rival group is that this murderer, Dustin Camp got a slap on the wrist. He never spent a night in jail. He got probation. This son of a bitch got away with murder. Brian's death has left his family and friends shattered. Dustin gets a standing ovation at his high school graduation 2 years after the murder. Brian's friends and family put together the Brian Deneke Memorial Committee to encourage tolerance and respect for people who have different lifestyles, to support victims of crimes like this, and to educate. Dustin goes on with his life and his first year of college.
Last night as I watched 20/20 Downtown's story about this, I just got more and more outraged. The interviewer for 20/20, Elizabeth Vargas, asked someone (I'm sorry, I can't remember who it was... I think one of the lawyers) that if the tables were turned and it was Brian Deneke who ran over Dustin Camp with his car, would Brian be in jail now. The man said YES. What an outrage!!! He went on to say something to the effect of, let's face it... appearance matters. WHAT!??? The guy didn't go to jail because he's a jock and looks, what? presentable? But being as Brian is different he would have?? This makes me utterly ill. I'm so sick and tired of kids who wear black, or listen to what someone else deems "disturbing" music being blamed for all the world's problems. Is Brian responsible for his own death because he had a mohawk haircut?? This is the year 2000. How can things like this still happen?
I guess maybe you're wondering why I find this so upsetting. I guess because I could have been Brian. I was there. No, not in Amarillo, TX on 12/12/97, but I was there at another time and place. Thirteen years ago I stopped at a McDonald's with a group of my friends. I was 21 years old and with five friends, four guys and one girl. Yes, we're punks. Two of the guys went into McDonald's to get a Coke or whatever, and came out rather quickly telling me to start my car and get the hell out of here. Well the place was swarming with high school kids but I honestly never thought a thing about it. I asked my two friends over and over what they did because before I knew what was happening, about four car loads of jocks with baseball bats were following us, waving the bats out their car windows. My friends insisted they did/said nothing. I believed them too because there were about 50 kids at this McDonald's and only six of us.
I tried to get away from them, but they kept chasing us. I made the big mistake of going down a street that had the lanes separated by a median, which means there was only one way traffic and the jocks seized the opportunity I gave them and surrounded my car, forcing me to stop. They surrounded my car and tried to get us to come out. Being the hothead that I am, I did get out and my friend Rich (who was in the back) tried to get out but my friends who were in the front seat wouldn't let him. They didn't want anyone to get hurt, and of course no one could stop me from getting out before I did. There was shouting, then a crash. One of the jocks smashed out the back window of my car with a baseball bat with three people sitting in the back seat no less. We were very lucky that no one got hurt. After this the jocks took off and as I laid on someone's lawn sobbing hysterically, a couple of my friends went to someone's house and asked them to call the police.
We were lucky, the police knew that the kids were troublemakers and it didn't matter that we were freaks, they believed us. They caught the kids within an hour and we identified them. The funny thing about it is that the guy with the bat was the chief of police's son for that city. He and his parents paid for all the damages to my car, but nothing else ever came of it. Like I said... we were lucky. Way luckier than Brian Deneke.
For me and my friends (and so many others) punk is a way of life, it's not a phase. We never grew out of it. It's been close to 20 years since I found punk and I still listen to the music, as do my friends. Sure, we are all responsible adults now and don't have blue spiked hair anymore (but if you ever met me in person, you might see that I try to hold on to that part of my life!). I have lost touch with a few of them now as friends do. But here I am, I work full time, I have a house that I'm trying to fix up, I have a husband (who incidentally I met in a punk club), I have two cats, I have a website devoted to a soap opera! I'm your next door neighbor. Why is that is so scary? Differences make the world go round. We shouldn't be persecuted for them. Embrace people who are different, learn from them. This isn't just about punks vs. jocks. This is about all differences whether it's hair color or skin color, fat or skinny, poor or rich etc.
This is a part of me that I don't often share, not because I'm ashamed of it, but because people don't understand it. They think that punks worship the devil, are drug addicts and cause trouble. I've never done any of those things. I'm not saying that all punks are good law abiding citizens, because no group of people is ever all inclusive. I'm saying that just because someone looks different than you doesn't mean they are bad people. Everyone deserves a chance to live their life. Brian Deneke didn't get that chance. I guess the moral to the story is... think before you act.