With the simple phrase, "It's go-go time," Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, the dean of Washington's go-go bands, cranked up its heavily percussive music about 12:30 a.m. yesterday at the Crystal Skate rink in Marlow Heights. The band's thumping drums and popping congas filled the cavernous roller-skating rink, rocking Tim Reeves' head in time with the rhythm.
"What's happenin', y'all," group leader Brown yelled to the crowd of teen-agers dancing under dim red and blue flashing lights. Within a few minutes, the beat moved to Reeves' feet, and the 19-year-old left his buddy sitting alone in a booth.
"I came here to see Chuck Brown," said Reeves, a senior at Dunbar High School in Washington. "And to party."
It didn't matter to Reeves, a twice-monthly visitor at Crystal Skate, that for the first time he can remember, security guards frisked him and the 1,000 other patrons at the rink's entrance late Friday night and early Saturday morning.Reeves didn't care that the rink's dozen private security guards seemed more determined than ever to throw out anyone seen using illegal drugs.
"Usually, whenever you come in here, whatever you've got, you've got," Reeves said. "But that was before the incident."
That incident happened early in the morning of Jan. 18 when a crowd of 2,000 teen-agers left the rink at 3132 Branch Ave. after a concert by Rare Essence, another Washington go-go band. Three teen-agers were slightly injured in the melee -- one stabbed, one shot and one hit by a car. All three were treated and released the same day at nearby hospitals.
But county officials charged that the melee was just the latest and worst example of regular disturbances at the rink, and Prince George's Council member Sue V. Mills last week introduced a bill that would force the rink to close at 11 p.m., a move Crystal Skate's owner said would end the weekend concerts and force him to close the rink.
"If I go out of business, where are [the teen-agers] going to go?" asked Daniel R. McDermott, Crystal Skate's owner. McDermott has taken steps since the fracas to keep disturbances to a minimum. All patrons are frisked for weapons, drugs, alcohol and drug paraphernalia. "If we find rolling papers, we take them and tear them up," said Mike Robertson, a burly security guard.
A trio of guards constantly moved through the crowd of dancers yesterday, keeping eyes and noses alert for the sight or smell of illegal drugs. When they spotted a suspicious-smelling cigarette, which happened at least three times, they quickly and forcefully took the user to the nearest exit. Four uniformed, off-duty Prince George's County police officers joined the three off-duty officers, who usually work inside the rink during concerts, all at McDermott's expense.
For the most part, the customers appeared to appreciate the increased security. "They found they needed more protection since that incident," said Tonda B. Twitty, 19, of Temple Hills, her shoulder-length cornrows bouncing with the bass line of "Slave to the Rhythm." "If it will help keep it open past 11 o'clock, I like it."
The tighter security measures paid off yesterday, at least inside the rink. Aside from a few minor shoving matches and the suspected drug users who were thrown out, the gathering was orderly.
By 3:15 a.m., Chuck Brown was winding down the concert. After the final clank of a cowbell, Brown's humorous rapping turned more serious.
"We don't want to hear no more about what you did out here last week," Brown said. "If y'all want to fight, go over to South Africa or somewhere. If they close this place down, what you gonna do, go over to Baltimore somewhere? You can get all the fights you want over there."
Reeves, the Dunbar High School senior, agreed with Brown and offered his own solution to maintaining order inside the rink and in the parking lot it shares with clothing stores, an automobile tire store and a health club. "All you've got to do," Reeves said, "is put some P.G. county cops in the parking lot. You know people will listen to P.G. county cops."
When the teen-agers left the rink, they found seven marked county police cruisers parked in front of the building. Five other police cruisers patrolled nearby. In case patrons didn't get the message from what police Cpl. Steve Bigelow called the "high-visibility, high-profile" show of force, an officer repeated a more blunt message over a loudspeaker: "Let's go home now. Profile time is over."