antonia williams-gary.pngIt was a very good Spring Break with sun, surf, youth, music, alcohol and the expressed intent to have a good time – in a foreign country.

On the second day, I got picked up, along with other revelers, and taken to jail.  The charges? Excessive youthful exuberance? That was back in the decade when we were still celebrating the British invasion of bands and still accepting free love and other free stuff.

Now, while I will not admit to all the charges, I sure will admit to being disorderly.

Wasn’t that the point?  I was young, away from home, across the waters, with my peers, hell bent on having fun.

I also must admit that I did not go there to get shot, stabbed, raped, assaulted or to engage in any criminal activity.  I went to have fun.  And I did.  Mass arrest and all.

Fast forward: Urban Beach Weekend 2011.  A police-involved shooting brought a violent climax to that event, sparking a renewed wide-scale debate surrounding Spring Break, music festivals (hip hop, particularly), open and unguarded partying, etc.

I wonder what the vacationers are talking about most: the sun, the abundance of over-exposed skin/other body parts, the guys – their cars/trucks, the music or the shooting?

Violence: Is it the police action, counter reaction?  Is it the push/pull of youthful exuberance, mixed with alcohol/other drugs, add in sun, surf, sights, sounds and other dangerous – and lethal – ingredients in this mix?

For the past 10 years, Miami Beach police have gotten ready for what they know will be a large – 200,000-plus – group of visitors to their isolated area.  The visitors are invited to come on down and the hospitality industry leaders help plan the party.

I’m sure that the allure each year for Urban Beach Weekenders is the urban myth that this year will top the previous year’s experiences.  So, too, the police have their previous years’ experience to build their strategies.   

Note:  Miami Beach is not easily accessible — a few roads lead on and off the Beach – and it can be quarantined, patrolled, monitored and totally isolated by land and sea.  There once was a time when some needed a “pass” for ingress and egress. Officials remain in control – at all times.

I gave an out-of-town guest a windshield tour of South Beach on Friday night, early that weekend, and we made a notation of the heightened police presence: mounted patrols, bicycle squads, two very large Corrections buses staged in front of police headquarters, blockaded streets designed to keep traffic flowing, Ocean Drive closed to vehicular traffic, thousands of red-shirted volunteers roaming the sidewalks and giving directions to help visitors have a good time.

As we traveled back to the mainland, the traffic jam heading to the Beach was fully underway, though still early, around midnight, and only Day One of the three-day event.

I immediately realized that management of the crowd should begin on the mainland; i.e., separate lane for residents and managing visitors with some show of an invitation, tickets, wrist bands, passports, etc.  These measures would only help stop, slow and deter those whose motives are criminal. 

It seems to me that the police and city officials must have been listening to the DJs and other event promoters. After all, planning improves each year at crowd control, hospitality, clean up, etc.  There have been several years with no shooting incidents.

And that’s the rub.

What officials can’t seem to get a good handle on is how to find, curtail or detain the determined few who bring their guns – and their bad attitudes – to the party to ruin it for everyone else.

Where can young folk go without having the threat of arrest and, in the extreme, death precede, meet and/or follow them?

I later learned from my family, when I was safely released from jail, returned home, and back at school, that the officials of the Island where I spent that Spring Break many long years ago  prepared themselves every year in anticipation of those wild “white” kids coming during Spring break to “get drunk and tear up the place.”

Yes, I was one of a very few students of color – in my world, that was normal –  and, yes, this type of “partying” still goes on whenever, and wherever, you mix sun, surf, music, alcohol and youthful exuberance with the few who come to mess up the party and the police who are there to stop them.

Antonia Williams-Gary is a consultant with Miami-based Savings and Grace Enterprise. She may be reached at