Tamed-down Freaknik disappoints party-goers

Attendance drops as police crack down on revelers in Atlanta

April 19, 1999|By COX NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA -- The women wised up, the police cracked down and the result was a relatively lame Freaknik.

Word that Atlanta police were cracking down on the slightest infractions apparently rippled to surrounding campuses, causing attendance to drop and limiting trouble that was widespread in recent years.

"There was no action here," Police Chief Beverly Harvard said yesterday as she toured a remarkably calm downtown. "There were hardly any women this year.

"Yesterday we drove around and we saw a lot of young men between the ages of 16 and maybe in their middle 20s and they were actually looking for the women. You could see it on their faces that they weren't having much fun."

Disappointed party-goers agreed.

"This year will be my last," said T-shirt vendor Marla O'Hara, who had a shop on Ashby Street near Morehouse College and is concluding her sixth Freaknik. "You can't expect people to come back when they're treated like this by the police."

Morehouse University student Felicia Pow, 23, attending her third Black College Spring Break, said the police crackdown "was wrong.

"Freaknik needed to stay like it was," she said. "The mayor needs to be more like the governor of Florida, who said we were welcome there if we behaved properly."

The definition of "proper" behavior varied.

In years past, Freaknik was a ticket to whoop it up on clogged streets and ogle members of the opposite sex. This year, riding on cars, leaning on horns and blocking intersections routinely brought tickets. And sometimes arrest.

Many who stopped for just seconds to swap phone numbers found their wheels being dragged off by one of the five towing firms that serve the city.

As of yesterday afternoon, police arrested 320 revelers (30 for felonies) and ticketed more than 800 -- 185 of them for city code violations. About 400 cars were towed.

DeKalb County police, who adopted a similar no-nonsense approach, reported that crowds and incidents have been light.

In past years, Atlanta police diverted traffic to DeKalb, causing tie-ups on Memorial Drive and Candler Road. This year, police there started cracking down Thursday night and an officer yesterday evening said, "It's dead out there."

Atlanta Officer John Quigley said this year's thin crowds made the zero-tolerance approach easier to administer.

"Obviously, zero-tolerance doesn't work when you're overwhelmed," he said, referring to the free-wheeling days of yore. City officials would not estimate this year's crowd, but it was almost certainly less than the 50,000 who came last year.

In years past, Harvard has warned Freaknikers that lewd behavior would not be tolerated by police. Rapes and other sexual assaults were frequent, with scantily clad women attacked on sidewalks and on top of cars stalled on streets.

"A lot of women have been victims; they've been groped and attacked," Harvard said. "This year we didn't see any of that groping. The word has gotten around that if you come to Atlanta's college spring break celebration, you could have some trouble."

Impromptu photo opportunities with women flashing were discouraged by officers who quickly moved in and broke up the activities before they got out of hand.

"It only takes a matter of seconds before a woman's clothes are torn off and she's completely naked and then you have a situation on your hands," said Officer M. A. Sharpe, who on Saturday told at least eight women to go home and put more clothes on.

The Rev. Markel Hutchins, a 21-year-old Morehouse College student and a member of the mayor's Freaknik advisory committee, said local police were creating a "police state" in Atlanta, harassing party-goers for no good reason.

He said officers twice yelled at him and threatened to ticket him until they spotted his credentials.

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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