By Alex Wukman
For anyone who knows Texas, Brazoria County is an odd place. The northern part of the county is home to the affluent Houston suburb of Pearland while the southern part of the county is dominated by a massive Dow Chemical refinery and skyrocketing cancer rates, which have yet to be conclusively linked by science.
The towns that dot coastal Brazoria County, like Freeport and Surfside, are known for local fishermen dragging portable generators and lights on to jetties at times many people are getting home from last call. Like many other small coastal towns they are also known for being, what politicians and urban planners politely call, “economically depressed.”
Kelly McCann, one of the core members of Houston rave/party collective Scooby Doo Crew (SDC), described crossing the bridge into Freeport as like “driving into a ghost town.” Like many areas suffering from a prolonged economic downturn, Freeport has experienced spikes in the local crime rate. The FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2009, the most recent available, shows that the Freeport PD had 483 reports of property crime and 315 reports of theft; while that may not sound like a lot, it is worth noting that Freeport only has a population of 12,471 people.
Some simple math gives Freeport a per capita ratio of approximately 39 cases of per property crime per 1,000 people, which gives the small town of Freeport a per capita rate for property crimes that almost equals the entire State of Texas’ rate of 40 per 1,000. The high crime rate, plus the nearly 90 minute drive from Houston, would seem to make Freeport an unlikely place for a party/rave collective to throw a free beach event—but that’s exactly what SDC did.
McCann explained that in the 15 years that SDC has been throwing parties they’ve been run off of almost every beach between Beaumont and Bay City. The problems started around 2000, after the annual party they threw on the Bolivar Peninsula had grown so large that it couldn’t be ignored.
“We had 20,000 people show up and the police said ‘You have all these sound systems out here there’s no way you aren’t making money. If you aren’t making money, why are you doing it,’” said McCann. “We told them ‘We don’t know; we just like doing it.’” He went to recount how the authorities told him and the rest of SDC not to come back the next year or there would be trouble and that he initially planned on being a good boy and obeying the authorities, but it didn’t work out that way.
“I got on all the message boards and said that Love Fest wasn’t happening that year, but all the other sound systems were like, ‘They only told SDC they couldn’t do the party, they never told us.’ So everybody agreed and suddenly they were doing our event without us and we said we’d do it,” said McCann. “We told them we weren’t doing the party that year so they weren’t prepared for us, but they were prepared for us the next year.”
McCann tells how when SDC’s bus arrived in Galveston they were met with a show of force that seemed like it had walked off a battlefield. “They had dozens of cops, a police helicopter and an Apache helicopter with night vision. They shine a spotlight, it would create a giant circle and the cops would rush in and tackle anyone who was in the circle,” said McCann. “After all that they only made 30 arrests for minor possession, I don’t think it even paid for the manpower they spent on the whole thing.”
Determined not to have to expend such a large amount of resources for such a little return; Galveston’s state representative helped push through a law designed to kill beach parties like SDC’s Love Fest. “The next year the State of Texas passed a law making it illegal to have a gathering of over 200 people on a state beach without a permit,” said McCann. Like many of the mandates that come out of Austin each year, the specifics of how the beach party permit law would be implemented were left up to each county.
“We contacted Galveston County to try and get a permit, but they told us that they hadn’t passed an ordinance to figure out the process,” said McCann. He went on to explain that Galveston County is far from alone in dragging their heels to implement a permitting process. In the 10 or so years since the Texas Legislature passed the law requiring permits for large beach parties none of the coastal counties have implemented a process for granting those permits.
The only way to force the various Commissioners’ Courts to act would be through a series of lawsuits, which McCann opposes. “If you piss them off [with a lawsuit] they could make the process for getting a permit so difficult that it’s virtually impossible,” McCann said citing parallels to the process Houston City Council enacted to issue street closure permits, that some say was designed solely to kill the Westheimer Street Festival.
He said that after the problems SDC had on the Bolivar Peninsula they decided to take a couple of years off before throwing another beach party. When they finally decided to try again they went east to Port Arthur, only to be met with the same problems they faced from the Galveston County authorities. “We were told that we needed a permit and when we asked how to get one, they said the county didn’t have any procedures in place,” said McCann.
He explained that in order to keep the beach parties going SDC decided to bring them under the 200 person cap. To accomplish the task of taking a 20,000 person party down they had to go underground. “We only do promotion for about three weeks before the party,” said McCann. However, even that hasn’t always made things with most authorities.
“We threw one party at San Luis and it went fine, but the next year when we tried it again the cops shut us down,” said McCann. Part of the problem was that since the beach around the San Luis Pass is not a state park there isn’t any camping allowed. So when SDC heard about Quintana County Park, which allows camping and isn’t patrolled regularly by police officers, it seemed like an ideal situation. However, lack of law enforcement is a double-edged sword, and as McCann recently posted to his Facebook account some people got cut this weekend.
On Saturday, March 26, SDC threw their annual beach party, this year’s was called Sunburn, at Quintana. The event kicked off at 9 p.m. that night, and from initial reports everything went fine until about 2 a.m. McCann explained that a series of fights broke out between party-goers and locals. “In the 15 years we’ve been doing this I’ve never seen so many fights,” said McCann. “It was almost a riot. I don’t think anyone knew what they were fighting for.”
He explains that the DJs turned off the music in an attempt to get the crowd to calm down, and it worked initially. He goes on to say that the “Freeport thugs,” as he called them, left the party, but not before breaking into a few vehicles. “They even broke into my camper, which was right next to the sound system,” said McCann. Attempts to verify how many cars were burglarized with the Freeport Police Department were unreturned by press time.
McCann went on to say that, after everything had settled down, two officers from the Freeport Police Department showed up. He said that the officers told them “they were responding to a report that gunshots had been fired.”
“I told them I didn’t hear any gunshots and asked them if they wanted us to turn off the music,” said McCann. “[The cops] said ‘no,’ they totally liked the music and loved the fire cannon. I even let one of them pull the trigger.” The two officers from Freeport PD agreed to stick around and patrol the area for about 30 minutes , said McCann, but by that time the damage was done.
On Monday McCann wrote on his Facebook page that “there were numerous cars broken into, people robbed and loads of fights! It was nice that cops were on our side for once and let the party continue but the violence was at an all time high.” He went on to write “I don’t know if I want to ever [be at] another beach party again where ignorance is that thick.”
In an interview McCann made sure to point out that the problems came from members of the community, not from the people who were there for the party. Or as he wrote, “Sorry Freeport thugs, you ruined a good thing, we are on to the next beach.” When asked where the next beach might be McCann was characteristically evasive.
“I met a guy who said that he knows a beach that doesn’t have road access at all and that to get to it you have to go through his family’s land, he said we’d have better control over who comes to the party that way,” said McCann.