Coast Leaders Analyze Black Spring Break

The Harrison County traffic plan for Black Spring Break 2001 was to keep cars on Highway 90 moving. Sheriff George Payne said this year, gridlock would not be tolerated.

"We weren't going to let that happen again. And we didn't," Payne said. "These young people came here; the vast majority had a good time. We had public safety on the streets in South Mississippi. Nobody was hurt. They all went home. It was a successful event in my opinion."

The sheriff got no argument from attorney John Whitfield. "Overall," Whitfield said, "spring break was a success for everybody."

But Whitfield said during the Newswatch This Week taping that there were some concerns, especially with how spring break drivers got treated. Whitfield pointed out that "drivers who simply slowed down to ask for directions were told to get out of their vehicles. They were given a ticket and their vehicles were towed."

Whitfield said that treatment could be the basis of future lawsuits. "I believe there were definitely cases of discrimination that did occur," he said, "without any question."

Sheriff Payne said everybody got treated the same. "We had 30,000 to 50,000 young black people," Payne said. "We dealt with them firmly. The vast majority of them had a positive experience here in South Mississippi."

As for the traffic diversion that backed up I-10, and unknowingly inconvenienced local residents, the sheriff said improvements must be made. He admitted that it's "one of the glitches we've got to look at. We've got to look at a way to treat our local people a little better in these diversions."

Both the sheriff and attorney Whitfield said better communication between everybody associated with Black Spring Break can make the next party even more successful.

Meetings are set for next week so local authorities can go over how they handled Black Spring Break. To see the entire Newswatch This Week interview tune into WLOX Saturday April 14 at 6:00 p.m.