Here is Miami Beach, a city with a population that includes less than five percent blacks, and, once a year, hundreds of thousands of young blacks descend on the place to enjoy themselves over the Memorial Weekend, having fun in sunny Florida.
You can bet if 100,000 young black men arrive in the city and do nothing but sit in the sun and drink beer, there will still be people who will complain bitterly. It has been evident almost from the start of the annual celebration in 2001 that what has irked opponents most is just the presence of so many black people in one place at one time.
Indeed, the behavior of city officials over the 10 years has left the impression that the last thing they wanted is to welcome these visitors who are supposedly giving Miami Beach a bad name. They had all these years to do it but it is clear they did not draw up plans to cope adequately with the very large number of revelers who show up every year. Residents complain, for example, about the volume of garbage left by the partiers, while seemingly unable to blame their officials for not being prepared to deal with the substantially larger than usual amount of waste that will be produced when there are hundreds of thousands more people.
What is more, the hostility some officials and residents have been showing towards the revelers seems not only to be matched but also surpassed by the police. This year’s incidents appear to underscore the widespread belief that some officers are indeed gunning for young black men, particularly one incident.
A May 31 report in The Miami Herald called attention to a YouTube video of the most serious police incident. It “showed officers approaching the stalled car with guns drawn before unleashing a hail of gunfire into the vehicle. Police did not discover a weapon but said they are investigating unconfirmed reports that shots came from the car and that passengers were in the vehicle and bailed out. Four bystanders were shot and Police Chief Carlos Noriega acknowledged that they may have been shot by officers.”
That is not the action of police officers intent on keeping the peace. It is the action of police officers intent on killing.
Scenarios to keep the lid on Urban Beach Week have ranged from abolishing it altogether to replacing it with a “multicultural concert” that would be “more diverse,” to replacing it with a supposedly more sedate concert featuring jazz and blues. Or, of course, instituting a curfew that hopefully would keep the mass of young people confined to their hotels during certain hours.
Let there be no doubt. There can be no excuse for some of the behavior that is evident during Urban Beach Week, such as the destruction of sidewalk cafes and interfering with the ability of business to stay open. In such a very large gathering of young people, there is bound to be rowdy behavior but that does not mean a free-for-all. Yet, it must be remembered that the few hundred revelers arrested each year is a small fraction of the total number of people who show up for the party and, also, that most of the arrests are for minor offences such as drunkenness.
It is, again, the city’s responsibility to come up with plans to ensure that bad behavior does not degenerate into lawlessness of any kind. And the way to do it is not to send hundreds of police officers swarming over the city in a show of force. One way to do it would be to have a dialogue with the New York radio personalities who promote the event – and to hold discussions with local black leaders and others on how best to proceed.
The City Commission was due to meet this Wednesday to discuss what to do about Urban Beach Week. Whatever it is that they come up with eventually, Miami Beach should continue to welcome young black people. The city has a chance to show that it can rise to the occasion and be a model for the rest of the country.