VIRGINIA BEACH, SEPT. 3 -- Virginia's NAACP president criticized city officials today for maintaining a "suffocating" police presence in anticipation of a large black crowd at this weekend's Laborfest.
One year after riots in which youths looted stores and police forcibly cleared streets, the beachfront block party wound down today with fewer arrests than on a typical summer weekend in this resort town, said Police Chief Charles R. Wall.
State NAACP President Jack Gravely said he was pleased that violence was avoided this year but said city officials prepare differently for the predominantly black crowds that have flocked here for Labor Day weekend in recent years than they do for other holiday gatherings.
On the beachfront this weekend, "the atmosphere was just like last year," with police officers at every corner, Gravely said.
"Friday night the police presence was just too much. It was suffocating," Gravely said. This weekend was more peaceful than Greekfest '89 primarily because police officers were more restrained and because ministers and other volunteers helped defuse potential confrontations, he said.
Mayor Meyera Oberndorf responded that Gravely could have contributed to the biracial planning effort for Laborfest. Added Harrison Wilson, a Laborfest planner and president of Norfolk State University, "We wouldn't have been responsible" using fewer police officers. "It's easy for somebody to second-guess."
A boycott of Virginia Beach businesses and fears of violence limited attendance at Laborfest '90 to about 30,000, according to a city estimate. Low turnouts for two days of top-name performers and other activities at a city park were attributed in part to high ticket prices and the requirement that concert-goers use shuttle buses.
Up to 100,000 people attended Greekfest '89, city officials said.
Yet officials and others said they were pleased that people of all races and ages remained through the weekend this year.
Virginia Beach "seemed to learn something from last year," when it became a symbol of racial intolerance, Gravely said, adding that Laborfest planners did many things right.
But Gravely said the local government made young blacks feel unwelcome for the second straight year. In addition to keeping too many officers on the street, Gravely said, the city made the weekend too structured.
As of 1 p.m. today, there were 155 misdemeanor arrests and ticketings and no felony arrests, city officials said.
Fewer than half of those arrested or ticketed were black and more than half live in the Hampton Roads area, officials said, adding that two-thirds are under the age of 26.