It was a couple weeks before my 18th birthday. I was sitting in my car listening to music and finishing my cigarette when an LAPD patrol car rolled up. With green, 5-inch dihawks and shaved eyebrows, I was used to getting harassed.
At the officer's demand, I produced my license.
"You're underage," he told me. "I'll have to write you a smoking ticket."
"I'll be 18 this month," I told him, adding, "isn't it cool if my dad knows I smoke?"
"If your dad knows you shoot heroin does it make that legal?" he shot back.
"All right," I said.
"Where are you headed, anyway?" he asked.
"Going to West L.A. Music to look at guitars," I said.
"What kind of music do you play?" he asked.
"Heavy metal," I responded.
"Are you a skinhead?" he asked. "I bet you listen to all that white-pride music."
I told him I wasn't, and, figuring I had nothing to lose, rattled off a few bands I liked Megadeth, Corrosion of Conformity.
He responded with his own favorites, including Black Sabbath. We talked music for a few minutes, then he said casually, "Hey, who was the guitarist for Black Sabbath?"
"Tony Iommi," I replied.
He smiled and said, "I'm not going to give you a ticket today."
John Dabney, 21,
store manager, Starbucks
Back in 1982, when I was 17 years old, my friends and I were hanging out on the corner of Cherokee and Hollywood, whistling and chatting with girls as they cruised by in cars. A small fight broke out on the corner, and everyone started running because there was fear that someone had a gun.
I stood there like a dummy and was hit from behind with a billy club by an officer who knocked me into a row of newspaper boxes. A couple of officers then picked me up, ran my head into big wooden doors, then smashed my head into some wrought-iron rails. I was handcuffed and put in the back of the cruiser.
One of the officers got into the back with me and asked me what gang I was with. I replied, "18th Street." He answered by elbowing me in the stomach and chest.
Instead of going to the police station they went in the opposite direction, pulling into an alley off Cherokee. They opened the doors and told me to get out. One of the officers told me that when they took off the handcuffs I better fight for my life or run like a motherfucker.
I told them not to take off the handcuffs because I didn't plan on fighting and I wasn't stupid enough to run. They threw me back in the car and switched drivers. The new officer knocked the wind out of me and choked me.
Meanwhile, the friend I was hanging with on Hollywood had gone to my house and told my mother that I had been taken away. The two of them went to Hollywood division to get me, but when they arrived I wasn't there. My mom started yelling at the sergeant, who had no knowledge of my arrest.
When I finally arrived at the station, about one hour later, I had blood coming out of my ear, shoulders, knuckles and forehead. They sat me in the tank while my mother complained up front. I overheard one of the officers talking to a D.A., who told them to release me immediately.
Instead they took me to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, handcuffed me to the bed and washed the blood off me. They took my shirt and disposed of it. I came out with a neck brace, my ribs and chest were bruised and my left arm was in a sling.
David De La Riva, 37,
former gang member, now community-service counselor with the L.A. County Department of Public Health Services
I'd been up for the better part of a month smoking crystal meth. I retreated to the beach to escape the inanimate objects that were conspiring against me in the basin. I swerved down PCH swinging my head behind me periodically to make sure they weren't gaining. After a while I felt secure. With Spiderman riding shotgun, no harm could come to me.
Before long I was pulled over. I turned to Spiderman and told him, "Keep quiet. I'll handle this." The officer was quick to ask if I understood I was in the bus lane.