Atlantans say annual gathering too lewd

ATLANTA -- The party may be over for Freaknik, Atlanta's

annual spring festival for black college students.

Shocked by TV footage of gangs 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, who is black, tried to discourage the event

until criticism from 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.

But because of the sexual antics this year, the

committee plans to recommend on Friday that the city scrap

all Freaknik events except for a job fair, said Hawthorne,

who is black.

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 a mob. Another fought

to get away from men who lifted her dress as she was posing

for a photograph.

MTV aired an hour-long show on Freaknik on Tuesday,

showing men disrobing and women being fondled as they

danced among mobs of men.

Hawthorne, who helped monitor the crowds, said he 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," he said. "If it had not been for me

intervening she would have potentially been raped in broad


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. No one was killed. 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

vast majority of visitors aren't even 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."