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Huntington Beach Riot

September 09, 1986

I was an event official at the Op Pro Surfing Championships in Huntington Beach during the Aug. 31 riot, but I am writing as a private citizen concerning the way in which the police handled the situation.

I noticed in your account of the riot that some interviewed youths thought the police were overly zealous in their use of force, and I would like to respond to that. First of all, I watched the entire episode develop and take place from a point 20 feet above the sand; in other words, I witnessed the entire riot.

What I saw, in addition to the police vehicles burning, were outmanned riot officers trying to restore order. They warned people; they declared the area an unlawful assembly, and they made every effort to get people off the beach peacefully. Instead, the youths responded by throwing bottles and debris at the officers. Question to the youths: How would you react if someone threw bottles at you? You'd go for the throat, right?

Well, the police didn't do that. A few rioters took good beatings, one of which I watched in its entirety. However, the subject wouldn't leave the area, and he also took a swing at one of the four officers standing around him. What I'm saying is this: Those 200 officers at the scene were extremely restrained, in light of dangerous and difficult circumstances. With two of their own injured, vehicles burned and beer bottles whistling past their heads, they exercised every bit of restraint imaginable to avoid tearing heads off.

Also, the crowd that came to watch the surfing event had nothing to do with the rioting. In fact, the actions of event director Ian Cairns and public address announcer D. David Morin were instrumental in making sure the contest crowd did not disperse into the scene of the melee. Between them and the police, the beaches were cleared quickly following the event.

I'm only one voice here, but I want to praise the Huntington Beach Police Department and other Orange County agencies for their efforts. I also want to thank the 60,000 people or so who quietly picked up their belongings and left the area after the event. I hope the demented youths who incited this riot didn't ruin your weekend.

BOB YEHLING

Carlsbad

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