Are those scenes from this year's Memorial Day weekend on Miami Beach?
The event swelled to 250,000 people from around the country, and as the crowds grew larger, so did the problems. With tens of thousands of more cars on the city's streets, many of the [city's] major thoroughfares became gridlocked, which frustrated the city's residents further as they were prevented from shopping, going to sporting and social events, attending school functions, even funerals. Emergency services were severely hampered. Also, with the larger number of revelers in the city, reports of shootings, robberies, looting, public lewdness and rapes increased.
That passage is from a Wikipedia entry on Atlanta's annual Freaknik celebration that began in the early 80's.
Atlanta's Freaknik was an 80's version of this decade's Miami Beach Urban Beach Weekend.
But alas, Freaknik is no more.
In a column in Thursday's Miami Herald, Fred Grimm recounts the demise of Freaknik:
[T]he most race-conscious town in America, the self-described “city too busy to hate.” Atlanta at first tried to control the party with city-sponsored concerts and other nurturing events. Mayor Bill Campbell argued, if not convincingly, that the kids descending on Atlanta “were as innocent as Beach Blanket Bingo."Yes, the leaders of a southern city "too busy to hate," decided they'd had enough of an event that brought wild, out-of-control behavior to their city, affected the quality of life and caused major public safety issues for taxpayers and residents.
That was 1993. By 1994, the bingo analogy was trampled by crowds beyond police control, despite 143 arrests. So many cars, jammed with kids, in a perpetually cruising, slow motion, rolling party, caused utter gridlock. Residents, trapped at home or in traffic, complained about outrageous sexual displays and intimidating confrontations. Scores of women attending Freaknik gatherings complained they were groped, their clothes ripped away.
In 1995, a mall located in a black upper-middle-class section of the city was overrun. A department store was looted. There were reports of sexual assaults. In 1996, a Freaknik visitor from Ohio was shot and killed.
It was too much for City Hall. But even for a black mayor and a black police chief, Freaknik presented a sticky problem — finding a way to tamp down the event without suggesting black kids weren’t welcome in the birthplace of Martin Luther King.
So they towed. The city commission passed ordinances against aimless cruising and Atlanta tow trucks went berserk. The city towed 706 cars in 1994 and kept going after the incessant cruisers, towing 472 cars in 1997, 603 in 1998, and 400 in 1999. Police erected barricades across key streets to block off the cruising circuits – a strategy now under discussion in Miami Beach. And Freakniks were arrested by the hundreds. By 2000, Freaknik had faded away.
Last month, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed threatened to sue any organizer who dared to resurrect Freaknik events without city permits. It was clear that the city would find technical grounds to deny any permit applications.Mayor Reed, like Mayor Campbell before him, is also black.
So, it's not about race or discriminating against any group.
It's about common sense.
For 10 years, Miami Beach residents have rolled out the welcome mat.
Urban Beach weekend visitors pay back that hospitality with crime, noise, garbage in the streets, public displays of lewdness and overall disrespect for Miami Beach's residents and business owners.
Many of the weekend's visitors engage in behavior on our streets they wouldn't think of doing on the streets of their own neighborhoods.
Miami Beach taxpayers have the same right to be safe in their city that Atlanta's residents reclaimed 10 years ago
But, contrast Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell's forceful response to what his city was facing in the 90's to how Miami Beach mayor Matti Bower reacted the other day to the weekend's problems: "[It] happens by itself, people just decide to come here,” she said.
I'm pretty sure Mayor Bower's resolute words were comforting to her constituents, who, after a harrowing weekend, were desperate for some kind of assurance that their elected officials had the situation under control.
But, if the city's residents are to regain a sense of safety, elected officials are going to have to show some backbone and insist that 10 years of crap is enough.
That's going to take leadership. To paraphrase Mayor Bower, "it won't happen by itself."
Do the mayor, city manager and commissioners have the cojones to take back their city?
Hopefully, we'll all learn the answer to that question long before May 28, 2012.