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Whatever the case, VFW officials pulled the plug on the music before Propagandhi had taken the stage. "We were in the middle of our set," Fraska recounts, "and a cop came up there. I couldn't really hear everything he said that well, because I was tuning my guitar, but the gist of it was, 'If you go back outside, you can't come back in, because it's too hot in here and there are people passing out.'" He doubts the verity of the latter statement: "I didn't see anyone passing out. I was jumping around on stage with those hot lights on me, and I wasn't passing out."
In response to the policeman's address, Fraska says, "Everybody started booing, but they didn't throw anything. I just told them, 'You guys should be nice,' and then we finished our set and went downstairs to get some fresh air. But we could tell that the police were starting to get mad. So we went back upstairs during Crestfallen's third song, at about the same time that the cops were trying to tell the sound man to shut it off.
"I guess he didn't hear them," he continues, "so the cops went on stage and said, 'Okay, that's it. Everyone out. Show's over.' And the next thing I knew, the police lined up and started pushing kids out. That made the kids mad--they said, 'We're not leaving,' and stuck their fists up in the air. That's when the police started hitting them in the stomachs with their nightsticks, and the kids started throwing ashtrays and stuff."
At the beginning of this clash, the listeners inside the building didn't realize that a similar scrap was taking place outside. Cotter calls the decision to clear the structure foolish and unnecessary. "There wasn't a threat of the people upstairs getting out of control," he says, "because people outside couldn't get in." He concedes that "the people outside were pretty mad, but they could have been dispersed, and we could have bought back all the tickets of people who couldn't get in. But they turned it into a confrontation. If they would have treated the people outside better, they would have acted nicer and we could have finished refunding the tickets and they would have left."
Instead, the massive number of police officers called to the scene split their forces into two fronts; half tried to shoo away the people outside, while the other half attempted to evacuate the hall. Cotter notes that he was one of the first to move from his seat to the sidewalk. "I identified myself to a cop and told him I was working there, and he gave me a pretty good shove and told me to get out. That was enough for me. I was gone before they really started whupping ass on the kids."
Fraska, however, was an eyewitness to the pandemonium. His description is graphic: "The police started dragging people out by the hair. There were, like, thirteen-year-olds and little kids, and all these cops were beating them until they were unconscious. Our drummer was thrown down the stairs, and my girlfriend was hit in the shoulder with a flashlight--she has this big bruise on her shoulder. Another friend of mine was hit in the head, and as he was trying to get away, the cops were hitting him in the back. The same thing was happening to other people, too, and some of them were asking to get the cops' badge numbers. But they wouldn't give them out--which is why I'm glad we've got some of their faces on video."
You read right: A portion of the action was caught on videotape. Cotter has viewed some of the footage. "One clip I saw was of a kid and a cop," he reveals. "The kid wasn't physically hurting the cop--he may have been mouthing off to him, I guess. But the cop slammed him in the side of the head with a billy club." Other members of the crowd were later sprayed with Mace--"which caused panic," Cotter says. "It was like somebody yelling 'Fire!' in a theater."
"The upstairs was just full of Mace," Fraska declares. "There was a kid passed out in the middle of it. I tried to go help him, but it was so thick in there that I couldn't breathe anymore and I had to run back to the window. My lungs still hurt now."
Over the course of the night, the VFW contends, the hall sustained nearly $10,000 in damage. Cotter says neither he nor his co-promoters have any intention of paying for it. After all, he believes that the fray shouldn't be laid on their doorstep, especially since the concert was hardly a financial windfall. "The show broke even," Cotter acknowledges, "but a lot of people got stuck with seeing a show that really wasn't what they wanted. And a lot of people couldn't get in who had tickets, or should have been able to purchase tickets at the door but weren't allowed to. It was supposed to be a benefit for Propagandhi, but it turned out to be a benefit for the VFW."
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