Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI BEACH — Ebony Boyd polished off two eggs, bacon and toast as she sat alone late Sunday morning enjoying the shade and quiet of Enso Cafe’s covered patio on Lincoln Road.
The clinical technician at a hospital in New Haven, Conn., was in town for the Memorial Day holiday weekend in Miami Beach, which, for the past 11 years, has become known as Urban Beach Week or Black Beach Week.
Boyd, 28, had left her cousin and sister sleeping in their room at the Marseilles Hotel to sneak out for some quiet time and to plan the day’s activity: sightseeing in the Everglades. The night before, they went to Amnesia, a Collins Avenue night club where Young Jeezy and Phil Mayor were the headline acts.
The party for many began either Thursday or Friday as visitors poured into South Beach hotels, which were at least 80 percent full over the holiday, Miami Beach spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez said on Friday.
“It’s good just to get away and have interactions with people from everywhere else,” said Keicia Johnson, 30, a health-care worker from Atlanta at her third Urban Beach Week. “We’re just hanging out and enjoying the beach.”
“People are here from as far away as Japan, Ethiopia, Russia, France, Australia and Guam,” said Edward Harris, director of the Goodwill Ambassadors, a Miami-Dade volunteer program that sends county employees to provide information, assistance and direction to tourists and visitors at high-volume events. He estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 people packed South Beach over the weekend.
But the throng of Urban Beach Week visitors on the city’s streets has not always gone down well with some residents and business owners, who complained of boisterous behavior, loud music, drugs and public drunkenness.
Last year, after police shot and killed Raymond Herisse of Boynton Beach when he reportedly sped off as officers tried to question him, the city toughened its security measures to include a DUI checkpoint, license tag readers and more officers on patrol.
Implementation of the estimated $1.8 million comprehensive security plan resulted in fewer arrests, fewer disturbances and fewer people this year, city officials say.
A report released by the Miami Beach police department for the holiday festival — May 24 -26 — shows 373 people were arrested, compared to 431 in 2011. Of those arrested, 223 were from Florida, 126 from out of town, two foreigners and 22 whose residences were unknown. Fewer whites arrested: 104 compared with 269 blacks.
“Nobody got shot, stabbed or killed. There was no major brawl. As morbid as that may sound, that’s success,” said Harris, who was a “goodwill ambassador” during the event.
The message the city wanted to send was not that the visitors were not welcome, Harris said. The tougher rules, he said, were intended to send this message: “You come on vacation and you don’t leave on probation.”
The city deployed 371 officers, who, along with contingents from other law enforcement agencies and federal agents, brought the police presence to a total of 590, the same number as last year, said Miami Beach Sgt. Bobby Hernandez.
Still, some visitors said they felt overwhelmed by the new security measures.
“It feels like you’re on lockdown,” said Deresha Ferguson, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, on her fourth Urban Beach Week outing. “Too many cops hovering around you, following you. “By far, this is the worst year.”
“It was like a shock-and-awe operation, a paramilitary operation with helicopter hovering and a massive police presence,” said John de Leon, president of the Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent volunteers to monitor police activity.
Lawrence Nicholson, 25, moved to Miami Beach from New York 16 months ago and works as a DJ under the name DJLJ. He said he understood why police took extra precautions but added that Urban Week was not the only time when visitors let loose.
“This is a party town,” said Nicholson, who had six DJ gigs during the weekend. “I’ve seen crazier stuff happen here on off-weekends.”
Although some businesses closed during the weekend or restricted access, some stores piped hip-hop music over their speakers and greeted guests warmly.
“Memorial Day weekend is the best weekend,” said Vincent Thilloy, who has owned several restaurants on the Beach. Urban Beach Weekend brings in three to four times the revenue he makes on other weekends.
Anthony “Israel” Way, a club promoter who also works for Thilloy, stood on Collins Avenue on Friday hawking the Berkeley Shore’s special: chicken wings and fries.
“This weekend makes more money off black people,” said Way, who was born in Homestead and is now a Miami Beach resident. “Everybody deserves respect.”
“Come and get these chicken wings for $10,” he shouted out to a group passing by.
“How ‘bout some chittlins?” someone shouted back.
“This is Miami Beach,” Way shot back, “not North Carolina.”
Photo: Ebony Boyd