Memorial Day Weekend – a weekend looked on with dread by Miami Beach residents. A weekend so hated that locals make sure they leave town come Memorial Day.
Last year’s weekend – aka, Urban Beach Weekend – was so tumultuous it caused the normally placid residents to take to City Hall with placards. It provoked debates. City employees and commissioners were vilified and it created unwanted worldwide media attention on a city known for it’s beautiful architecture and nightlife.
This year, residents demanded and got action from city leaders. The city manager and police department came up with a plan that put the city into a near police lockdown replete with barricades, police towers, license plate scanners and checkpoints. A message was sent to those coming to Miami Beach to party, and it was received loud and clear. Websites that advertised parties and tickets to a weekend of music and fashion and fun instead were trying to drum up business in spite of the lockdown.
One website (urbanbeachweek.us) had the following message pasted on it’s index page: “No, Urban Beach is not Canceled and Can Never Be Canceled. You can’t stop Tax Paying Americans from Traveling where the hell they want for their vacation!!! Don’t listen to the Rumors!!!”
But, it was too little, too late. Urban Beach Weekend, by all accounts, seemed to have fizzled.
“Last year we had around 250,000 come to UBW. It was exciting and wild and a big moment.” Then the shooting happened and it all went to hell. We was confused. We are not those people and that is not what we are about. This year, my group did not sell as much as we thought we would. People were not gonna come to Miami to get bothered,” said Sean G., a Chicago promotor. “All the cops here, it’s fuckin’ crazy. The word went out before we even came down here, how bad the ‘man,’ was gonna be. It affected sales. For sure.”
That sentiment was heard all over Miami Beach this weekend. From hotel owners, to waiters, to barristas, to club promotors. Turn-out was down and the expected financial boon did not happen this weekend.
For the most part, the only people pleased by this turnout are some residents and the police.
“It’s a great thing when the plan comes together. I’m very happy, very pleased with how the weekend’s turned out,” Police Chief Raymond Martinez said. To date, police arrested 321 people during the weekend compared to 332 last year. They also received about 600 fewer emergency calls compared to 2011.
Resident Sandra Brown, who has just moved to South Beach from Las Vegas, was thrilled with the way the city handled things.
“I was going to leave, but when I saw the city plan, I decided to stick it out and it was fine. Except for a few minor incidents that were just not right.” She went onto to talk about a video that is making the rounds on YouTube.
“There is a video on YouTube with a black woman in a bikini, bumping and grinding herself on a man she does not know,” Brown relates. “This leads to a free-for-all fight with men hitting women and women hitting women. It is so Jerry Springer on our Ocean Drive! This is not what Barbara Capitman had in mind, I assure you.” (Video)
Not everyone was happy with the large SWAT-like police presence. In a letter sent to Miami Beach officials, ACLU President John DeLeon called parts of the police plan “unconstitutional, if not racially motivated.” He also noted that “the city of Miami Beach would appear to be targeting, in a racially discriminatory manner, those who regularly attend Urban Beach Weekend.”
His letter also called out an alleged “police goal” mentioned in a letter to the city from the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP letter allegedly calls for “meeting an arrest quota of 2,000 arrests” during Urban Beach Weekend. DeLeon further stated that “such a goal, which could only be achieved by a ‘zero tolerance’ policy, is a prescription for confrontation and will surely escalate difficult situations into even worse ones.”
Police Chief Martinez denied this claim, stating that there was no quota in play.
City officials would not give crowd estimates: “We don’t do crowd estimates and, since there is no ‘event’ and thus no event organizer, there is no one that we can get that estimate from.” Both sides agree that the expected 350-400,000 did not come to South Beach this year.
And where does it put those businesses who hired extra staff, stocked up on extra food and prepared for the masses? “In the hole,” said one Ocean Drive restauranteur who did not want to be identified.
“We all laid out tons of cash to prepare for the influx. The police, the media, the city, all were going on and on about 350,000 people coming here, so we had to do it. And so far, this weekend is the same for me as last weekend. I just have more food to throw out,” the restauranteur said.
Another bar owner, who also wished to remain anonymous, talked about the $1.9 million that the city spent on fortifying the streets.
“It was like being in Colombia. Everywhere you looked was a gun or a barricade. I do appreciate the police being around, but not that much. They scared everyone away and that is just not good for our business.” He added, “That money should have been used for more important things.”
It was not only businesses effected by the police presence. Valerie, the owner of the Tarpoon Dive store at the Miami Beach Marina, said, “An Asian tourist came into my dive store and wanted to know if Miami Beach was always like this. They went to a night club, were charged a $100 entrance fee each and then the club was full of police officers.
So it seems that the city is split in regards to Memorial Day Weekend. Some were hurt financially, while others were more concerned with safety. However, the overall consensus is that the plan still needs work.
Alexander H. from Miami said: “Last year was sleazy and decadent, but fun. This year, with the presence of so many cops, it was a very quiet weekend. With all the publicity, everyone thought the gangs were coming and they stayed way. Cops should wear street clothing on a weekend like this. We are not in a military zone that we need the SWAT team out.”