The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Fair

Eyewitness says Virginia Beach racism is obvious

A position can only be respected if it is founded on an informed basis. As a consequence of this principle, I would like to refute most of the comments made in Dave Atkins's recent letter ["Cartoon misrepresented Virginia Beach riots," Sept. 19] concerning the Virginia Beach Labor Day incidents.

Regarding the implication that the bottle of suntan lotion in the cartoon displaying a grinning Klansman was somehow inapplicable: the reports of the "Great White Hope" (Ku Klux Klan) aiding the police in controlling "anticipated illegal activity" of those coming to partake in Greekfest '89 reached my ear at the end of the AT&T phone line long before I was enroute to Virginia Beach. An all-white male kinship displaying Confederate flags could be seen. It was a setting clear to some of us in the South that the Klan was "in effect."

The letter goes on to say

"... 100,000 black students looted and vandalized the resort city." If 100,000 people of any race, creed, or color engaged in such criminal activity, there would be no Virginia Beach. Obviously, Atkins got too emotional since the problem hit too close to home.

While fear contributed to certain developments, "500 minor arrests and citations" were mere excuses for being a nuisance to police. Hotel owners increased rates and enforced minimum stays to discourage occupancy. As if that were not enough, many of the hotels issued colored wristbands to identify registered guests since visitors were only allowed in the lobby.

Organized groups were not allowed to secure establishments for meeting. Tens of thousands of people in a resort city with nothing to do can only walk the streets or ride down the strip. When the police began to close off the main strip, most perceived this as a last-minute act of consideration for the students. Approximately an hour and a half later, the police, on horse and foot, paraded down Atlantic Avenue in riot gear. All that was needed was a riot. I know because I was there.

After a long standoff, police were assaulted not by those on the street, but by those on balconies above. Police on horseback rushed the crowd and tossed smoke bombs. Those who resorted to vandalism should have been arrested and placed in jail. There was no need to enforce house arrests on those of us staying in hotels on Atlantic Avenue. If you were on the balcony and saw black youths being slammed to the ground and to walls, and then saw white people riding bikes down the same street or skateboarding alongside two pit bulls, how would you perceive it? Race was an issue as it was in the Sixties.

Why didn't the police arrest and jail those who perpetrated crimes and allow the remaining 99.5 percent of us to enjoy our break? That is what is done in Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach, Myrtle Beach and other common vacationing places where many individuals conduct similar activities annually during spring break and graduation.

I too attended the showing of Do the Right Thing on campus this summer. Atkins's implication that the film may have incited these events was also based on fear and paranoia. While actions in the film may not have been the most positive means of dealing with black frustration, they were effective. As Spike Lee stated "black people are tired of being killed."

I am also from Virginia. Virginia Beach placed the wheels in motion for a racial confrontation in 1989 at the 1988 Greekfest. It was clear then that they did not want such a large population of African-Americans in their "lily-white" resort city. I am a firm believer in the rights that I have as a tax-paying resident and law-abiding citizen. I can go where my money allows. So I went.

I do not hold Atkins completely at fault. Although he did form an opinion on the misrepresentation of facts, he was nowhere near Virginia Beach during this time and did not become aware of the "facts" until after the fact. He chose to get belated information from "a day late and dollar short" newspaper only to draw certain conclusions that makes one question his motives.

Perhaps he should have done the right thing and thought more carefully before commenting on the issue. Or at least, he could have talked to people around him who may have been involved. Who knows? He may live next door to someone who would be able to give him an eyewitness account.

Dannellia Gladden G->