In the L.L. Cool J era, it was crucial for teenagers to wear gold everything; teeth, earrings, shoes, belts. If you could think of it, we had to wear it in gold. Back in 1989, if you did not own a add-a-bead necklace, then you were poor as dirt and treated as such. Basically, an Add-A-Bead Necklace was a gold link chain with gold beads. Whenever your birthday came around, you’d get a small jewelry box and inside of it would be another bead to add to your chain. Now, I never knew the real name for these necklaces was Graduated Bead Formal Necklace. What I did know was that my mother was not about to buy me one. She did not believe in Keeping up with the Jones’. But, I was a teen who had a reputation to uphold. J.C. Penny was out of the question because back then credit cards weren’t even an option. Therefore, I caught a ride to my local pawn shop and put an Add-a-Bead Necklace in the layaway. I paid for it overtime and it was mine before school started the summer of my sophomore year. Add-A-Beads are what I remember most about my friend, I’ll call her Tamra. She always wore her hair stacked in tiny pin sized marcel iron curls. It was as if she had her own set of marcels and a stove to heat them. And Tamra never left the house without her Add-a-Beads. I tried to keep up the trends and she set them. Tamra was known for having the best which is why I was glad we were friends.
When we all ended up at our high school’s swimming pool for a party, I was quite sure there would be no swimming. Being cute was too much work to ruin with water and chlorine. We weren’t about to mess up our hair and endure three hours of washing, straightening, and curling our relaxed coifs. Besides, we wanted to hang with the boys in our swimsuits. Yeah, we were fast. So what. Anyway, we didn’t even get the chance to show off. Almost as soon as the party started, it ended. Some fat head dude who thought he was too cool ruined the party by having an altercation. The adults flicked the lights indicating it was time to exit the building and nearly pushed us out the front door. All of our plans were ruined. We grumbled and complained our way to the parking lot.
What the adults didn’t know was that we had car speakers. Someone popped the trunk and we took the party outside. Man, that bass was booming. We were Doing the Butt, with Dre because It Was Funky Enough, to Bust a Move, like some Wild Things. We never suspected that the teachers who we loved and thought they loved us would call the police. Until we saw the single patrol car speeding toward us like the sheriff in the Dukes of Hazard. Explicatives floated through the air drowning out the music. We were so upset to see the boys in blue.
Now I’m thinking maybe it was quitting time for these two officers. Even with the smell of teen hormones permiating the air and potential hooks up guaranteed to happen, these guys asked us to disperse.
“What? You take your *#@! home.”
I tell you, everyone without a warrant was giving lip service to these guys, including me. But, it was Tamra who stood closest to the dynamic duo. It was Tamra’s who 105 pound body was grabbed and slammed against a car repeatedly. It was my friend Tamra’s whose face began to bruise and bleed in front of my eyes. Her arms were jerked behind her back in such a fashion that her screams ripped through the air. Her wrists were slammed into handcuffs pinching her skin while her arm tilted to a disturbing angle. Then one-by-one, each one of those small round, gold beads dropped to the ground.
I cried to the officer, “you’re hurting her.”
“Get in the car!” He yelled back.
“Let her go,” I continued.
His partner advanced toward me. I retreated to my vehicle. By then, Tamra was in the back of the patrol car. I could still hear her cries. In a time when cellular devices weren’t prevalent in the community, the only thing I could think of. I drove to her mother’s house and for help. Seems that when the parking lot cleared, Officer Friendly was okay with letting Tamra go. There weren’t any charges filed and she wasn’t arrested that night. Her mother rushed her to the hospital, took pictures of her face, X-rayed her arms and compiled a personal injury case against the officer. In 1993, four years later, the judge ruled on behalf of the officer. Tamra never received justice for the excessive force and the subsequent trauma she endured. Nor, did she get her Add-A-Beads back.
Every teenager on the parking lot that early, fall evening, had a chance to witness police brutality and the lack of consequences for people who take an oath to protect and serve. The only ‘crime’ Tamra and any of us were guilty of that night, was being brown, loving to dance, and rock our Add-a-Beads.
I’m proud of my city, St. Louis. I’m proud that we are standing as one fighting for Tamra, Mike Brown, Anthony Lamar Smith, and the countless number of brown people who lost their lives, been brutalized, and traumatized by an unjust legal system.