Park Drumming Part 2
There were some good conga players that would come and hang out, and they would just jam, bring any number of congas would be there. Sometimes somebody would have timbales, sometimes a trumpet player would show up, people would sing and dance. A really cool scene, people would hang out, and it was mellow. And sometimes it would start to get a little bit out of hand, like at Golden Gate Park, where a lot of people would just come in. It would turn into kind of a hippie love, you know, interpretive dance thing, and it would get a little bit away from what a lot of us and a lot of, before me, like a lot of the cats were trying to do, like a serious kind of folkloric thing, you know.
And so if it would get a little bit too out, and you’d get like drummers who would come with their drums that really didn’t play, that would just be kind of banging, and then what would happen is either it would keep going like that -- and that has its own charm, too, I mean, it’d be cool, but for the drummers who really wanted to play some real serious drumming, then they would separate and leave that back there and go, you know, to the other end of the park, or find another bench and make another little group.
So we used to play at Marshall Banks Park in Daly City, and down in San Bruno at Crystal Springs Park, but we used to go mostly to Dolores Park just because it had the vibe, you know. So one day we were there. It was kind of an overcast day. Him and I were the first ones there. It was during the week. We used to go -- you know, the weekends it would turn into a big thing, but we’d go during the week when there was nobody there just so we could play and just have fun.
And one day we were playing, and the police car, SFPD, you know, drove right up into the park, right on the path. We’re sitting, we’re playing on the benches on the path, and they drove right up in front of us and said, you know, “You’re under arrest.” We’re like, “What do you mean, we’re under arrest?” “Well, you’re under arrest because you’re breaking the city ordinance, the sound ordinance. The noise abatement unit has measured you from the window of, over there across the street, some old lady across the street complained about it.” They opened their window and got a noise decibel meter and measured us, and said that we’re playing at a level that is over the city ordinance, what it allows.
So we’re under arrest, and they took us and booked us. They took us to jail and they booked us. And it was, in retrospect it was kind of funny, but not, and I’ll tell you why. Because we, at that point, we made a big deal out of it, and we got the Mission Legal Defense to take our case, and we got about 50 community organizations to sign on, and we went to all the dances and all the functions and all the events outdoors with petitions for people to sign.
We got thousands of signatures to say that, you know, drumming is part of the cultural heritage of the Mission. It’s been going on for a long time, it’s part of our people’s history, and we made a big deal about it. And the level that we got arrested for playing was quieter than if you turn a blender on or if a car goes by, you know, they proved -- a vacuum cleaner -- they proved that all these everyday sounds are twice as loud as what we got arrested for. So they had no case, and they dropped the charges, but they never changed that law. That ordinance still sits there, and they would enforce it whenever they wanted to, and it effectively killed the drumming in the park.