A group of students from local colleges said yesterday they are urging young blacks to boycott Labor Day weekend festivities at Virginia Beach, where last year the annual event broke out in racial violence.
The group, which includes students from Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia, said it will offer its own events on the two campuses as an alternative to the planned activities in Virginia Beach.
Last year, Virginia Beach police and the National Guard clashed with some of the estimated 100,000 black visitors who had jammed into the state's principal ocean resort to take part in the nine-year-old Greekfest. By the end of the three-day affair, dozens of civilians and police had been injured and 100 stores had been looted. Officials estimated damage at $1.4 million.
The violence focused national attention on Virginia Beach as local and network broadcasters showed videotapes of law enforcement officers beating people with nightsticks and of people looting stores or destroying property.
"We didn't need to make up any reasons not to go back to Virginia Beach," said Mark Thompson, a UDC student and one of the spokesmen for the umbrella organization Peace Productions, which has membership from 14 student groups.
Pam Lingle, a spokeswoman for the mayor of Virginia Beach, said officials have been working to avoid mistakes made last year. She said that businesses there had donated $170,000 to pay for activities during the weekend, an indication of efforts to improve the weekend stay.
"Boycotting is a personal decision," Lingle said. "But of course, they are welcome here."
The students acknowledged that Virginia Beach officials have put together a program of activities for the weekend. But they said many of the activities are planned for a park five miles away from the oceanfront. They were also critical of many special rules the city plans to institute for the weekend that will restrict pedestrian and vehicular movement around the oceanfront hotels.
They specifically singled out the continued issuance by some hotels of identification bracelets that hotel guests are required to wear, and the city's distribution of passes for guests to gain access to certain areas.
"Those ID bracelets are no different from shackles; the passes are no different from identification cards used in South Africa," Thompson said.
Students in other areas -- including Baltimore, Atlanta and South Carolina -- also are planning alternatives to the Virginia Beach weekend, which has been renamed Laborfest.
The original idea for the Virginia Beach festivities came from black Greek letter fraternity and sorority groups. But over the years, the weekend began drawing black college students who were not members of the Greek organizations and blacks who were not students.
Two black Greek organizations -- the Howard University chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. -- are supporting the effort by Peace Productions. Other fraternities and sororities have not responded to inquiries from the umbrella group about supporting the boycott, but individual members have indicated they will support it.
Other student groups supporting the boycott are the Howard University Student Association, the UDC undergraduate student government association and the Howard chapter of the NAACP.
The weekend activities in Washington also will provide students the opportunity to spend their money with black businesses, the students said.
The schedule includes parties Friday, Saturday and Sunday, swimming at UDC, political forums and jazz concerts, and will conclude on Monday with an "Afrikafest," with vendors selling African clothing, food and crafts.
"We are providing an alternative to Virginia Beach," said Sheri Winston, a Howard student. "Those who go back there will see what happens. And maybe next year, they won't go back."