On Friday night, 19 August 1960, youthful patrons at San Diego's most popular drive-in restaurants received handbills along with their burgers and cherry cokes. The leaflet invited 'all drag racing fans' to a 'mass protest meeting' the next evening at the intersection of El Cajon Boulevard and Cherokee Street.
Two weeks previously, following an accident that injured three bystanders, the navy had shut down the last drag strip in San Diego County--an old auxiliary runway known as Hourglass Field where formally illegal weekend competitions under the adult auspices of the San Diego Timing Association (the parent body of 22 hotrod clubs) had been tolerated since the closure of the association's original drag strip on Paradise Mesa in 1959. The navy's action delighted the conservative triumvirate of Police Chief Jansen, Mayor Dail and Supervisor Gibson, who had long denounced drag racing, sanctioned or not, as a stimulant to 'recklessness and disorder'.
San Diego police dispatchers began frantically calling in reinforcements at 1am Sunday morning (21 August). An estimated 3,000 teenagers and young adults had blocked off a long section of El Cajon Boulevard (the city's major east-west thoroughfare). 'The cars, of all models and shapes,' reported the San Diego Union newspaper, 'raced two abreast for about three blocks down El Cajon Boulevard. Thousands of spectators lined the sidewalk and centre island, leaving almost no room for cars to pass.'
It took police, wielding batons, lobbing teargas and driving their patrol cars onto the sidewalks, almost three hours to disperse the crowd. Veteran cops, accustomed to teenage deference, were shocked by the crowd's angry defiance. One contingent of about 100 stubbornly held their ground on a gas station parking lot, answering teargas and police charges with volleys of 'soft drink bottles, glasses and rocks', slightly injuring two officers.
The El Cajon Boulevard Riot, as it became officially known, electrified teenagers of all classes, if not of all races. San Diego braced for the unknown. On Monday night, after one councilman had warned that the kids were 'trying to run the town', police reserves were called up and issued with riot sticks and teargas.
Instead of a single mob they found themselves playing 'motorised tag' with long convoys of protesters who alternately slowed down and speeded up, but never exceeded the speed limit. Their unofficial anthem was the Ventures' thrilling punched to the floorboard instrumental 'Walk, Don't Run'. In addition to El Cajon Boulevard, where several hundred hotrodders taunted authorities in a tense confrontation at a popular drive-in, police and highway patrol struggled to keep up with the large contingents cruising Clairemont, Linda Vista and Pacific Beach. In El Cajon, where chief Joseph O'Connor had vowed that 'we will resist mob rule down to the last man', the police blocked Main Street and ticketed protesters for real or spurious 'equipment violations' (typical response to any civil disobediance, ticket and arrest until the protestors give up). http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj91/davis.htm International Socialism Journal, Summer 2001