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Where the beat goes on

Increased police patrols interrupt the cadence of the Treasure Island drum circle, then harmony prevails.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY
Published October 1, 2006

[Times photo: Willie J. Allen Jr.]
Adrian Bachelle, 23, dances with her good friend Geof SSengoba, 37, in the drum circle. People have gathered to drum at sunset for five years, which has brought some complaints from businesses.

TREASURE ISLAND - The beauty of the circle is its consistent spontaneity. Its inclusiveness. Its stamina.

Every Sunday for five years, people have come here to beat drums, to watch the sun set, to dance.

Everyone is welcome. The wheelchair users who are pushed through the sand to watch the spectacle. The dreadlocked, the silver-haired, the pierced, the diapered.

The police.

Responding to recent complaints of local business owners, Treasure Island police have been scouting the weekly jam sessions. A dozen attendees have been arrested in recent weeks on charges such as underage drinking or marijuana possession.

Still, the beat goes on. Many drum circle participants welcome the increased police presence. And they say police appear to be trying to be less obtrusive.

"The first two nights they shined headlights into circle and it made a lot of people uncomfortable," said Rob Davis, a regular drum circle participant who welcomes police presence.

That's changed.

Last Sunday, six officers scouted the crowd of about 150. Their cars idled near the dunes when drumming began before sunset. Drummers formed a large circle while toddlers and women danced in the middle. Beach blankets and chairs were set around the perimeter. People cheered as the sun's last sliver of fire dipped below the horizon.

About 8 p.m. the police drove toward the circle, turning their headlights off before emerging from their cars to check for open flames, glass bottles and other beach no-nos. (Treasure Island is one of two Pinellas beach cities that allow alcohol on the beach, but not glass containers.)

Sunday's group netted fewer violations than in the past, said police Sgt. Armand Boudreau. He said two attendees were arrested for underage drinking and one was cited for urinating in public.

On Sept. 10, police recorded six arrests and five citations for ordinance violations, he said.

Mostly people just want to have a good time, said Alfred Nelson, 26, of Seminole.

Some drum circle participants have complained that the police presence was too invasive.

"They walk around through the middle of the circle," said Joshua Shaw, 30, dancing while he talks. "I had to tell them, 'leave me alone, I'm just dancing.' "

The police aren't the problem, Davis said. The kids are. Many teenagers are causing trouble by drinking alcohol, leaving trash behind and bothering local business owners.

Local businesses have complained that some participants use their restrooms without authorization.

Nelson said he used the restroom of a nearby Subway restaurant to keep from being charged with urinating in public. He suggests keeping nearby public restrooms open past sunset.

Davis has been talking with police, trying to increase awareness that the drum circle is a fun, family-friendly event, not a place to party. He fears the city will require a license for the unorganized, leaderless, largely spontaneous event.

Some worry that police scrutiny will mean the end of the drum circle.

Guests at the nearby Bilmar Beach Resort, 10650 Gulf Blvd., really enjoy the scene, said general manager Clyde Smith.

"They open their balcony doors and enjoy it as evening entertainment," said Smith.

Dennis Crnolatas, 55, of Tampa has been drumming at the circle for years and doesn't mind the presence of police as long as he gets to play.

The police don't bother Kristen Zink, 18, of Tampa, who decorates her dancing body with the neon of glow sticks.

The police are there to make sure no one gets in fights, she said.

"It's all good," she said. "Usually, though, they never talk to me."

She walks away, dancing to the mesmerizing drumbeats and enters the circle, swinging her arms in a blur of neon light.

[Last modified October 1, 2006, 01:28:44]


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