Brawl: 'Hyphy' or a lot of hype?

MODESTO -- The violence that erupted in downtown Modesto on Sunday night was

fueled by "hyphy," a cultural phenomenon originating in Oakland and the East Bay, according to Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden.

"Be dumb and act stupid," is how Wasden described the

hyphy mentality. "Have no respect for order or for rules or the law or anyone's property. ... It won't be tolerated here."

Wasden said Wednesday that police no longer will approve permits for high school dances at downtown clubs.

Meanwhile, critics of the department -- including several witnesses of the downtown mêlée -said that Sunday had nothing to do with hyphy (pronounced hi-fee), and everything to do with out-of-control law enforcement.

"They injured children who didn't deserve to be hurt," said Jai Gullatt, a community activist who said her teenage daughter has bruises on her back from the batons police used during the unrest. "They realized it and they knew they were wrong. A cover-up is a cover-up."

Gullatt said she and other community leaders have organized a public meeting Monday night for residents and city leaders to voice their concerns.

"This will not end," she said. "This is a community that is ready to fight back."

The problems Sunday began outside Club Velocity, a separate area inside the Palladium nightclub on 10th Street in Modesto, which staged a high school night with a DJ and dance for about 300 teenagers, officials said.

Wasden said the event was advertised on MySpace.com as a hyphy event.

Hyphy is a bass-heavy style of rap music that often is accompanied by spasmatic and over-stated dancing, moves referred to as "going dumb." Hyphy is a play on the word "hyper."

Hyphy also is associated with "sideshows," in which large groups of people take over a public space -- a road or parking lot -- and create a mobile, sometimes violent, party involving car tricks, drugs, alcohol, loud music and vandalism.

Hyphy partiers often target unsuspecting victims, police said.

"It is lawless and it doesn't care who it picks on," Wasden said. "Anyone can drive into this kind of mess thinking they're going over to the store, and the next thing you know you're in the middle of it, your car is getting vandalized and you are getting pulled out and attacked."

Wasden said the hyphy culture "seems aimed at African-American youth."

Many of the teens attending the Club Velocity event -- as well as the hundreds of others who could not get inside -were wearing "HYPHY" shirts, police said.

About 10:30 p.m., police received a report of a mugging in which a group described as black and Latino males attacked a single victim, police said. Similar reports followed.

"They were roving around, beating girls, all of them young girls who just happened to run into their path," Wasden said. "They were picking out people, beating them, robbing them and then challenging officers who were trying to hold them accountable."

Wasden said there were reports of teenagers hitting and kicking parked cars and trying to damage moving vehicles.

"I've been a cop for over 30 years," Wasden said. "The more I learn about (hyphy), the more it disgusts me. Parents need to know it's out there."

But John Ervin, president of the King-Kennedy Memorial Center board in Modesto, said the real problem may not have been hyphy, but the way police deal -- and have dealt -- with the city's minority populations.

"Somehow or another, we have to get to the point where the perception of law enforcement is not one of 'us and them,' " he said. "That is the perception now, us and them, that their only function is to arrest us. That's how the kids feel, that the police's whole job is to catch us doing something and arrest us, to figure out some way to get us in the back of a patrol car."

He said there was "some hyphy activity" Sunday night -- such as dancing -but that the black youth he spoke to felt the police were too aggressive.

"They said the police looked unprepared and that their way to deal with that was to overreact," Ervin said. "They felt they were being profiled or stigmatized."

Police denied they targeted certain races.

"Absolutely not," Sgt. Craig Gundlach said. "We don't do that."

He added, however, that police must search for suspects based on a victim's description, including race.

"When we respond to calls for help, if the victim tells us the suspects are black males, Hispanic males, white males, we're going to be targeting those descriptions," Gundlach said. "If officers were looking for a black male, it's because a victim described her attacker as a black male."

Police arrested 17 people Sunday night; Gundlach said police would release the ethnicity, ages, hometowns and charges today.

Also Wednesday, police said they have reviewed video from security cameras in Tenth Street Plaza, but that the footage is low quality and does not offer a clear image.

At a city Public Safety Committee meeting, police officials requested that more cameras be mounted in the plaza.

Monday's community meeting will be at the Second Baptist Church, 529 California Ave., at 7 p.m.