Punks, Jocks and Justice

There was a killing and now a conviction. Even those can't stop the fierce war raging between the Panhandle punks and athletes of Amarillo.

From a distance the circumstances seem stark, the villain clear. Not so in Amarillo, where Camp's recent murder trial "split the community right down the middle," according to defense attorney Warren L. Clark. It caused a wave of small acts of retribution on both sides that are still continuing.

On the witness stand, the testimony of jocks and punks seldom jibed. Forcing his way through the many cracks in logic was Clark. He portrayed Deneke and his pals as goons, thugs and sociopaths, and Camp as a good, solid, normal kid wedded to Amarillo's favorite institutions: family and football.

It was an old courtroom trick, demonizing the victim, valorizing the perpetrator. And it worked. Dustin Camp walked free, convicted of manslaughter, not murder, sentenced only to probation and a $10,000 fine. Even the fine is probated.

Dustin Camp allegedly said he was "a ninja in my Caddy."
Dustin Camp allegedly said he was "a ninja in my Caddy."
Camp called the killing "a tragic deal that happened."
Henry Bargas
Camp called the killing "a tragic deal that happened."

The punks, and a good chunk of Amarillo's 175,000 citizens, are outraged.

"I thought it was bullshit," says 27-year-old David Trew, a friend of Deneke's. "Complete inanity that someone caught burglarizing a house or selling drugs can go to prison for 20 years, but for taking another human being's life he gets ten years' probation.

"I think when you're 17, you think you're invulnerable," he adds. "I don't think Mr. Camp understood the impact this would have on his life. We all do things in life where we say 'oops.' But murder is where I draw the line."

Elise Thompson sits in her apartment in Austin and tells the story of the "most traumatic and valuable experience of my life."

She is a freshman premed student at UT. Clear-eyed and pretty in an inconspicuous way, she is dressed plainly in college garb: khaki pants; a white, neatly pressed Banana Republic T-shirt; worn, brand-X sneakers. She crosses her legs politely and answers many questions with a soft "yes, ma'am."

Her friend Rob had blocked out all details of Deneke's death, so she would become the prosecution's star witness. People on both sides, from Camp's attorney to the punks who never knew her, would acknowledge that her testimony had the ring of truth. Her credibility was beyond question: She was the '99 class valedictorian at Tascosa High; she was the only important eyewitness who hadn't been drinking; she had no prejudices anyone could detect; she had no discernible motive for lying or blurring the facts.

The trial came at a time when Amarillo's prejudice, indignation and grief bled onto the letters page of the local newspaper and manifested itself in repeated incidents of intimidation involving both jocks and punks.

Thompson, when called upon to testify, would thread her way between the two tribes.

Out of the chaos, she drew sanity.

She remembers all the gossip at Tascosa High that Friday. A fight was gonna go down, combatants to be announced.

Word passed from a couple of football players to their girlfriends to some of the kids who occupy the spaces between the cliques in high school, kids slightly out of step with the campus mob. Kids like Elise Thompson, whose entertainment then and now centers around a weekly Young Life Bible study.

"The thing is," Thompson says, "I am so scared of fights, and I always have been. I detest violence. But fights never materialized. One side would show up, and everyone gathered in the parking lot. and you got to see all of your friends. It was just a big, fun social event, and that's what I thought was gonna happen."

When one of the punks talks matter-of-factly about his "anarchistic tendencies," he has obviously missed the irony of kids with Mohawks and pierced noses listening to the Subhumans, diving into mosh pits and digging the poetry of Jello Biafra not too far downwind from Amarillo's stinky feedlots.

They'll tell you it's tough being a punk in Amarillo. All of the kids in the "lifestyle," Goths and skins as well as punks, talk about the kind of harassment they regularly face from Amarillo's staid citizenry.

Just this morning, says Matt Bohannon, an iron-pumping skin who became the punks' informal spokesman during Camp's trial, he was run off the road on his bike by a posse of white hats in a pickup.

Some time ago, Julie Hollifield got a car stereo lobbed at her head while she was walking down the street. The guys who threw it missed, but barely.

Intimidation had become such a fixture in Deneke's life that he'd earned the nicknames "Punch," as in human punching bag, and "Fist Magnet."

"He took a lot of verbal and physical abuse from people," says his dad, 48-year-old Mike Deneke, who sells cookware for a living. "We tried to explain to him that if you dress that way, have your hair that way, people are gonna act negative towards you, and that's just the way it is.

"And he said it's not right, they shouldn't. And he's right, they shouldn't. But people do."

The young Deneke wasn't one to bow down to campus cliques. He began acquiring his unusual tastes in music and dress as a young skateboarder, zinging down homemade ramps in his parents' backyard with his older brother Jason, even vaulting over cars.

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Jocks are Americas scourge.They think they are above the law and are worshipped as all American by conservatives. They deserved to get shot when they messed with the wrong people in Colorado.

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