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.

His love of skateboarding led to a clash with his scoutmaster, who once kicked Deneke's most beloved possession out the door. The boy picked it up and seemed ready to hit back, but he didn't. Camp's attorney would dredge up that incident in the trial as an early example of Deneke's "antisocial behavior."

Along with skateboarding came punk music. And as Deneke grew older, the music would eclipse his hobby.

Subhumans, Naked Aggression, Blank '77, Logical Nonsense -- Deneke's buddies list the names of his favorite bands, several of whom he lured to Amarillo for live performances. "He'd write 'em and ask them to play here, as many times as it took for them finally to agree," says John King, one of Deneke's closest friends. "He'd take money out of his own pocket and rent a place for them to play."

John King says if you look different in Amarillo, trouble "will come to you."
Mark Graham
John King says if you look different in Amarillo, trouble "will come to you."
Deneke's friends heard him verified by the defense attorney in the trial.
Mark Graham
Deneke's friends heard him verified by the defense attorney in the trial.

Deneke couldn't play instruments himself, but his passion for music got him singing in a local band. The name, White Slave Traders, had the requisite dose of cheap outrage. But if he got overly bored at home, he'd hitchhike cross-country, meeting up with punk "squatters" in other towns, getting drunk, watching bands, surviving by "spanging," as in spare-changing.

In Amarillo, Deneke had work. He painted whimsical road signs for local entrepreneur and pop-art enthusiast Stanley Marsh III, the force behind the city's famed roadside sculpture Cadillac Ranch. He often used his paycheck to cover the bills at a series of communal homes the punks shared and sometimes used as underground clubs.

Like many of his friends, Deneke would shave, bob and spike his hair in odd configurations and apply lurid hues. They eventually faded to the default color of all homemade dye jobs, a certain sickly green. He wore a black leather jacket, camouflage trousers, spiked belts and dog collars, all trademarks of a look that reached its peak in Britain in the late '70s. It survives today, thousands of prairie miles from its historical context, in places where kids know little about "Break Free From Oppression" and "Smash Government Corruption," two of the vaguely punk slogans Deneke stenciled onto his thermal underwear.

Wardrobe aside, Deneke possessed a personal magnetism that separated him from his peers. "He was real cute," says Jennifer Hix, Deneke's on-again, off-again girlfriend. "He had a really positive, outgoing personality. Instead of sitting on his ass, he'd rather do something. He was real fun."

That energy and charm fit perfectly with his role as Amarillo's 19-year-old punk impresario. He lured bands from as far away as L.A., put on his own shows and got to know just about everyone whose musical tastes ventured into the margins. At gathering places such as The Egg and a sprawling communal home for punks on Eighth Street, kids would assemble for shows, dancing and downing pints of bottled Guinness, their preferred poison.

The punks repeatedly talk about Deneke's ability to generate excitement out of nothing. And Amarillo, they remind you, is pretty close to nothing on the thrills spectrum. Daniel Kelso, who worked with Deneke, explains his unusual charisma. "Brian was probably the most self-aware, self-realized and happy-go-lucky 19-year-old I've ever run into. He was always in a good mood, always smiling, even when bad shit happened."

Rumbling with the jocks probably never fit into Deneke's idea of a good time. But punks saw confrontation and provocation as regular features of their lives and were prepared to deal with it. "You don't have to go looking for trouble in this town," King says. "If you look different, it will come to you."

Even so, everyone admits that the trifling events leading up to the big fight were just stupid.

Faggot! Freak!

Chris Oles, a tall, spindly punk with a hollow American Gothic face, salvaged his pride the best he could, by blowing gentle kisses to the table of jocks gathered in the side room at IHOP on December 6, a week before Brian Deneke's death.

Who started it is a cause of much dispute. Oles, now 23, says the jocks began harassing him when he was forced to walk past them on the way to the toilet. Justin Devore, one of the jocks, says Oles egged them on by repeatedly pulling up his shirt and exposing what appeared to be a knife handle. Oles denies this.

Whatever the case, the conflict amped up several notches when two other guys at the IHOP, John King and Dustin Camp, got in each other's faces.

Neither kid knew the other. But amid the exchange of macho epithets, witnesses on both sides saw Camp, a pudgy football player from Tascosa High, jab his finger into King's chest.

Wrong guy. Of all the punks, King, now 19, is known for his short fuse. Combat pants slung down low, slouched in a chair and gazing at you with half-lit eyes, he talks quietly about smashing in someone's head with a police baton. "I'm a punk," he says. He could just as well mean thug.

That night King just gave Camp a hard shove. Oles tried to diffuse things, he says, grabbing his friend in a headlock and pulling him away while someone else hustled Camp out the door.

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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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