Originally created 05/14/98

Freaknik too lewd, crude for Atlanta?



ATLANTA -- The party may be over for Freaknik, Atlanta's annual spring bash for black college students.

Prompted by TV footage of gangs of men groping women, the city's welcoming committee for the sprawling street party is now asking Mayor Bill Campbell to withdraw his support.

"When individuals say they want to come to Freaknik, they come with a mentality that it is an open season on women," said George Hawthorne, who headed the welcoming committee. "Their main intent is to come for some lewd and sexual experience."

Aside from free-for-all fondling, Freaknik has earned a reputation for spawning massive traffic jams and sporadic looting. Many local businesses are forced to close their doors during the rite of spring, which took place April 17-19 this year.

Campbell, who is black, tried to discourage the event until criticism from black leaders prompted him to form a welcoming committee in 1996. The city has since sponsored concerts and other events to help control the unruly cruising party.

Hawthorne, who is also black, said Wednesday that the sexual antics during this year's Freaknik warrant the city withdrawing its endorsement.

Reports aired last week on WSB-TV showed several women being chased by men grabbing their buttocks. The footage showed one woman flailing her arms wildly to fight off a mob, and another woman fighting to get away from men who lifted her dress as she was posing for a photograph.

And MTV aired its own hour-long show on Freaknik Tuesday, showing men disrobing and women being fondled as they danced among mobs of men.

Hawthorne, who helped monitor the crowds during Freaknik, said he personally pulled a woman from a swarm of 20 to 30 men who were trying to strip her.

"She had her underwear around her knees and her dress was up over her head," Hawthorne said. "If it had not been for me intervening ... she would have potentially been raped in broad daylight."

Yet some black college students say Freaknik flirting is no more crude or dangerous than the antics of white students who go to the beach for spring break.

"It's disgusting and it's dangerous, but it's everywhere you have college students," said Sharita Trimuel, a senior at the University of Georgia. "Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, Cocoa beach -- it's the same thing, only this time it's in the city."

The City Hall committee plans to recommend that it continue to sponsor a job fair during Freaknik weekend, but scrap all other events, Hawthorne said.

Campbell had no comment Wednesday, said spokesman Nick Gold.

Police estimated crowds at 50,000 for this year's Freaknik -- less than half the number reported in previous years. The city's entire force of 1,500 officers was called in to work 12 hour shifts during Freaknik weekend.

Four rapes and six sexual assaults were reported to Atlanta police during the April 17-19 festival. Four shootings were also reported, though no one was killed. Overall, police made 481 arrests, 45 of which were felonies.

Hawthorne said there's no sense in continuing to bill Freaknik weekend as a black college event because most who attend aren't students. Surveys by Freaknik vendors and marketers indicated the vast majority of visitors are nonstudents in their mid 20s and early 30s.

"It puts a negative connotation on black college students," said Devin White, a member of Hawthorne's committee and student body president at Clark Atlanta University. "If anything negative happens, it's going to be looked at as if it's black college students doing these things."