Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day weekend flashback...2001

Matt Meltzer at has penned a column about this year's Memorial Day weekend that's sure to generate a lot of discussion.
For those who are unaware, Memorial Day weekend in Miami is an unofficial “Urban Beach Weekend.” Much less euphemistically, this means that South Beach is more or less filled with black people. What usually follows is a weekend with lots of arrests, lots of girls being harassed on the street, and lots of SUVs with rims that cost more than the driver’s house.
For the record, having been in the middle of the action on South Beach for several years in a row, I've never witnessed anything negative.

But Matt makes some good points. Things can and do get out of hand.

Urban Beach Weekend didn't earn the less-than-stellar reputation it has because the hip-hop crowd comes here to spend the entire weekend at poetry readings or attending macramé classes.

But Miami Beach city officials have taken heat over what some see as an over-reaction to the crowds that descend upon the beach. The weekend visitors, their defenders say, are just here to have some fun and spend money.

But many forget what happened just a few years ago.

This might refresh some memories or enlighten others who weren't here in 2001:

From the Miami Herald, June 3, 2001:


Born on the streets of the South Bronx in the late 1970s, hip-hop music has set its post-adolescent sights on South Beach .

It's a phenomenon that Miami Beach - which at times has had an uneasy relationship with the black community - wasn't expecting and isn't completely embracing.

A case in point: This past Memorial Day weekend, dozens of rap stars and tens of thousands of their fans surged into South Beach , handing the city one of its biggest five- day bashes.

Clubs, hotels and restaurants, many of which had a poor season, were packed. But some Beach residents described the experience as nothing less than their worst nightmare. (emphasis mine)

Miami Beach Commissioner Nancy Liebman, a mayoral candidate, wrote in a letter to concerned citizens, ``This Memorial Day Weekend was a tragedy for the City of Miami Beach in many respects.

``We degraded our worldwide image which we had carefully restored over the last six or seven years.''

Since the early 1990s, Miami Beach has actively wooed European, Latin American and gay visitors. But this holiday weekend, blacks found South Beach - and South Beach found itself unprepared. (emphasis mine)

Residents, shopkeepers and others complained of closed roads, parking woes and thousands of people spilling onto the streets all night.

Miami Beach Police arrested 211 people from May 24 through Monday, nearly double the number taken into custody the week before.

Most of the arrests were for charges of disorderly conduct and intoxication, police said. The five- day period saw three shootings resulting in minor wounds, two stabbings, three cases of sexual battery and 15 robberies.
But most Miami Beach leaders, including City Manager Jorge M. Gonzalez and the top police brass, have been much more reserved in their comments about the crowd - admitting they were taken aback by the sheer number of visitors and attributing obnoxious behavior, fighting and some violence to a small group of out-of-control tourists.

``We were totally overwhelmed by the amount of people who came to South Beach over the weekend,'' said Miami Beach Sgt. George Navarro. ``But for the amount of people we had here, crime was not so bad.''

The 211 arrests in a five- day period came close to matching figures from other rowdy Beach weekends. During Memorial Day weekend last year, which included the first Urban Fashion Week, Miami Beach Police made 215 arrests over the Thursday-through-Monday peak party days .

During the extremely popular five- day Winter Music Conference, a gathering of electronic-music buffs in March, the Beach police made 183 arrests.
Jacobs also skillfully included a bit of historical irony in her story:
For decades, most black Americans who came to Miami Beach did so only to work as domestics in the city's hotel, restaurant and nightclub industry - not to enjoy the sunny beaches , which were off-limits to them.

Ordinance 457, passed in 1936, required all Beach hotel, restaurant, nightclub and domestic workers to register with police and to be photographed and fingerprinted. Those who registered had to carry ID cards in the city.

While the law did not single out blacks, most historians agree that it was selectively enforced against them. Word spread that the Beach was not a place for blacks - a reputation that has haunted the city.

In 1990, local black leaders organized a boycott of Miami -Dade County and Miami Beach after several prominent officials snubbed South African leader Nelson Mandela during his visit to Miami .

And in 1996, problems developed following the ``How Can I Be Down?'' hip-hop convention. Fliers were plastered around the city, trash littered the streets, and residents complained about unruly behavior - prompting former City Manager Jose Garcia-Pedrosa to say that Collins Avenue looked like ``a bad - not a good - Third World city.''
The following year, things were little different.

"Miami Beach's Memorial Day Weekend 2002 was still a kickin' party, many visitors said, but with the bass turned low," the Herald's Daniel Grech reported.
Last year, Miami Beach police said they were caught off guard by larger-than-expected crowds, which spilled into the streets, upset some residents and overwhelmed city services.

``People did whatever they wanted,'' police spokesman Bobby Hernandez said. ``They got the upper hand and things got out of control.''

A year of detailed planning later, police called the weekend an unqualified success, at least from a public safety standpoint.

``People are happy, they're not stuck in traffic, the streets are clean, residential parking is being enforced,'' Hernandez said. ``We set the tone from the beginning.''

Police dispatched 400 officers - including 100 from Miami -Dade County police - each night, eight times the regular midnight shift. A 48-car rapid-reaction force started each evening in convoy through South Beach with emergency lights lit and sirens blaring.

``We let people know we're here,'' Hernandez said.

Police said 94 people were arrested during the long weekend, mostly for misdemeanors such as violating noise and open container ordinances. Last year, 149 were arrested, including more for violent crimes.

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