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Is Freaknik too hot for Atlanta to handle?

 
Published May 15, 1998|Updated Sept. 13, 2005

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

Shocked by TV footage of men groping women during the festival last month, the city's welcoming committee for the street party is asking Mayor Bill Campbell to withdraw Atlanta's 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 heads the 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 producing monumental traffic jams and sporadic looting. Many businesses close during the rite of spring, which took place April 17-19 this year.

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

However, because of the sexual antics this year, the committee plans to recommend today that the city scrap all Freaknik events except for a job fair, Hawthorne said.

The mayor had no comment Wednesday.

Video broadcast last week on WSB-TV showed several women being chased by men grabbing their buttocks. One woman was seen flailing her arms to fight off the men. Another fought to get away from men who lifted her dress as she was posing for a photograph.

MTV aired an hourlong show on Freaknik Tuesday, showing men disrobing and women being fondled as they danced among crowds of men.

Hawthorne, who helped monitor the crowds, said he pulled a woman from a group 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," he said. "If it had not been for me intervening she would have potentially been raped in broad daylight."

Some black college students said Freaknik 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."

Past Freaknik crowds reached 250,000. This year's event drew an estimated 50,000, according to the police. Atlanta's entire force of 1,500 officers was called in to work 12-hour shifts.

Four rapes, six sexual assaults and four shootings were reported during the event. Police made 481 arrests, 45 for felonies.

Devin White, a member of Hawthorne's committee and student body president at Clark Atlanta University, agreed the city should rescind its welcome. Surveys indicate the majority of visitors aren't students, but people in their mid-20s and early 30s.

"It puts a negative connotation on black college students," White said. "If anything negative happens, it's going to be looked at as if it's black college students doing these things."