March 28, 1971 – The Most Violent Day in Ocean Beach History

by on March 27, 2015 · 4 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Culture, History, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Peace Movement, Politics

OB Collier Pk riot 2 edx2

Originally published March 27, 2015

44th Anniversary of Collier Park Riot Spurs Comparisons

The hour was getting late at the meeting of the Ocean Beach Town Council Board of Directors. It was January 21st in the year 1971 – 44 years ago. The hour was getting late but the meeting was lively as the topic was hot.

The subject was whether the City of San Diego would sell off to developers a large portion of land in northeast Ocean Beach called “Collier West” – so named because it was the western section of a much larger piece of property donated to the public by David C Collier – the “Father of Ocean Beach“.

A older male member of the Board was getting agitated – he started to shake as he half stood up to speak. It was Ray Perine, a slightly balding middle-aged and well-known grassroots activist. Not a radical by any means, Ray cleared his throat.

“If any apartments are built in Collier West, by god,” he said, “the town will rise up and get rid of them!”

Other Board members were somewhat shocked by his tone – while others smiled and applauded.  OB Rag reporters were present and recorded what happened and what was said.

There was clearly widespread opposition among local residents and property owners to any sale of the land for apartments and Perine was expressing this commonly-share sentiment among locals. But Perine wasn’t anticipating exactly what happened, for the town, the village of Ocean Beach did rise up – just 5 weeks later.

On March 28th – in the middle of a campaign to “Save Collier Park” by local Ocean Beach environmentalists, other grassroots activists and members of the OB Rag staff – the anti-Vietnam War movement rolled into town and staged a large teach-in and demonstration down at the beach in OB.

OB Collier Pk riot 1 edIt was 1971 – the early Seventies – and the War that had torn the country apart over the last half dozen years was still raging – it wouldn’t end for another 4 years in 1975.

The anti-war movement really didn’t just roll into OB. It was already here. Many of the leaders of the movement to get the US out of Southeast Asia lived in OB. Much of the community supported the anti-war movement.  OB was full of college students and the war was a big issue at most of the local campuses.

Anti-war organizers were involved in a specific effort called “The People’s Peace Treaty” and they wanted to bring their campaign to OB. They had met with the activists involved in saving Collier Park and there was consensus to do a joint anti-war and save the park demonstration.

Collier Park then n nowThe event on the 28th was planned for several weeks. Speakers were arranged, the players for a guerrilla skit rehearsed, leaflets were distributed throughout OB and on the college campuses, a food committee organized a “free food” buffet for the day to be set up in the park itself, a rock and roll band was recruited to play.

The plan was for the anti-war activists to hold the rally down on the grass at what used to be called “South Beach” – now just referred to as the “Dog Beach parking lot”. And then at the appointed hour, the crowd would be encouraged to walk up the hill to Collier Park and help clean up the empty lot, get some food, listen to music – to just chill.

And when the time came, the large gathering of young people at the anti-war protest down at the beach began the walk up Voltaire Street to the grassy knoll on the rise up to northeast OB. It was all very peaceful, very celebratory even – and when the hundreds filtered into what became Collier Park – all was good. The food line was going, the band was setting up …

And then the police arrived and everything changed.

You can read our various accounts of what transpired to become the most violent day in the history of Ocean Beach and the consequences. And make sure you especially read the “Riot Special” printed just a few days after the event, with many eyewitness accounts.

Comparisons With Other OB Incidents

In the meantime, we would like to make some brief comparisons. And this is certainly not meant to glorify violence, or violence against police or violence by police against civilians. But March 28th, 1971, was the day that OB became, in a very real sense, like the Ferguson, Missouri of last summer.

There were no shootings and no deaths – and obviously the incident did not involve a white police presence oppressing a mainly-African-American community. But we can still make other comparisons, even with the disclaimers.  And it was just for one day.

What made the Collier Park Riot the most violent was the widespread use of violence by police against locals and against young people, by the street fighting, the throwing of rocks at police by hundreds, the burning of a police car, the arrests of 50 people, and the confrontational nature that lasted for  hours and down a mile to the beach into the night.

The most immediate comparison is the Jetty Battle of the Summer of 1970.  This “battle” lasted for days and into the nights during an entire week. So, in a sense, the fight against the jetty was longer in duration, and did involve skirmishing with cops and some construction workers.  But the numbers of injuries and arrests – even over multiple days – did not match the riot that began in Collier Park.

There was some damage to the cranes as protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the machinery. But during the Collier Park incident, there was no property damage except for a patrol car. There had been no looting and no fires.

Another righteous comparison would be with what happened on February 22, 1974, when OB was turned into a “police state” after the non-fatal shooting of an officer by ex-inmate Peter Mahone who was probably exercising what we today call “suicide by cop”. Everyone lived, even after dozens of cops poured lead into the shack where Mahone  holed up.  Many shots were fired, but the violence was limited to a narrow field, even though OB was on “lock-down” for a while and residents couldn’t leave.

Looking back, it certainly must appear to younger residents that OB was very violent in the 1970s. It was but so was the entire country in many ways. The Vietnam War and the war against Black militants in this country, the political assassinations that still remain unsolved – all contributed to a society where violence seemed more prevalent.

Other comparisons should include the Easter and Labor Day “rebellions” of 1968 where the heat, the beach and beer fueled a number of very apolitical outbursts by the youth of OB against police. There were a few arrests, certainly, but there was no anger or political expression. It was the counter-culture and beach-culture merging into a type of “anti-establishment” stance that drew the young into these mock confrontations.

The Collier Park incident rises above other violent outbursts.  There was some trashing and fires set in trash cans along Newport Avenue during a spontaneous May 1972 anti-Vietnam War protest. An American flag was burned in effigy by some very drunk anti-war hippies one night during the summer of 1974, who scattered when a platoon of cops were sent marching down Newport.

In the late Spring of 1975, police were sent in to Ocean Beach along Abbott Street, as a crowd had prevented an officer from arresting a man who had momentarily taken his gun. For a short period before the cops arrived in force, anarchy broke out along Abbott – people smoked pot openly and even a nude skater took to the street.

In the early 1980s, there was another shoot-out between police and some nasty drug-dealers who holed up in a two-story apartment building near Cable and Muir. Many shots fired. The cops eventually cleared them out – no one was killed or seriously injured.

Back in the early 1960s, (1963?) there was the murder of woman near the what became the area of the OB Pier – never solved. No comparison, though.

And of course, mother nature has been very violent to those unwitting souls who take her for granted. Like the young sailor buried by sand in 1973 as he dug a cave in the Cliffs near the Pier, like those who have never made it out of the ocean alive – such as a young man who drowned off our shores on last Halloween.  And the well-known surfer who died near last Christmas from a raging bacterial infection he got while surfing after a bad storm.

Yet the violence of March 28, 1971 still stands out after all these (brief) comparisons. While not glorifying violence, the physical resistance by OBceans and their students 44 years ago not only aided in the eventual creation of Collier Park, it also helped to lead to some reforms within the San Diego Police Department.

But it’s all part of our collective memory now. As long as we can type and hit the “publish” button, the OB Rag will continue to remind our villagers of their history – not all of it pretty – and some of it downright violent – but still, part of what made Ocean Beach the way it is today.









{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

mjt March 30, 2016 at 9:59 am

My observation of the so called turbulent sixties.
The people, police, the times, were gentle and unifying, compared to today.

Middle age values were under attack, and the youth of the day with their long hair,and pot smoking ways, were looked at aghast.

As usual the press would magnify an incident and create false impressions.
Yes we called the cops pigs, hated the FBI and scorned the ruling class.
But every thing is relative, the police back then were sweethearts compared to today.
In 1970 we had 230,000 in jail, today it is 2.3 million.

I attended every major peace demonstration in NYC and DC from 1965 to 1969.
Hundreds of thousands of people, all peaceful. I never saw any violence.
We marched on the Pentagon in 67, the building was surrounded with troops.
There was a breach, and a couple a hundred of us slipped through.
We were able to walk right up to the building, the military brass were looking down on us. No problem, the soldiers let us leave, but permitted no one else to enter.
I stayed until about midnight, got tired and left. We shared cigarettes and good will with each other.

In 2007 there was a march to commemorate the 67 experience. The road was blocked , you could barley see the building.


Frank Gormlie April 2, 2016 at 3:11 pm

mjt – thanks for the memories. We need to hear about yours, your memories, experiences of that by-gone era. I do need to remind you of the shooting attacks on Black Panthers by police, and all the police spies and provocateurs … now, don’t get me started.


Doug Blackwood April 2, 2016 at 6:29 pm

We were listening to music at a pad on 5000 Brighton, when we got a call.
A house (Peter B. Prof at SDSC radical) in 5100 block of Brighton was shot at, wounding Paula T. We raced down (someone called 911), and picked up bullet shell casings with a pencil, placing them in an envelope; which we gave to SDPD. The shooters were a right wing militia: Fallbrook, I believe.
I think that is called; an attempted assassination!


Frank Gormlie April 4, 2016 at 9:10 am

Thanks Doug, that was in early January 1972, the shooting by the Secret Army Organization (SAO) in a drive-by, where no so coincidentally an FBI informant was driving the car.


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