Urban Beach Week South Beach Has Lost Its Allure

by: David Arthur Walters. (Special to City Debate)  Black Beach Week advertised the 18th Annual Urban Beach Week 2018 on South Miami Beach as, “the largest Urban Festival in the world that caters toward the Hip Hop Generation from 21 and over. Around 300,000-350,000 participants make the annual trek to South Beach for 4 days full of fun, food.”

The big attraction for men would be the women: “The women who come to South Beach dress in Lick-um Bikinis. Urban BeachThey don’t play! You know we love to see skin, skin and more skin and I am sure you do too. You are going to get dizzy from your head spinning from all sorts of directions as the sexiest model looking dime pieces will be all over the streets, the beaches, the clubs and if there are poles on the sidewalk then look out for all the extra action.”

And the opposite would be true for the women: “Special message to the ladies if you single you are going to be in heaven. So many men, so little time. But I won’t tell if you won’t tell. Fair warning. If you have a man back home already, be warned. Once you arrive in South Beach, you might have to make that upgrade to another. You know the fellas in South Beach come with their bodies glowing. They have been in the gym for the last 3 months to prepare for this moment just so you can take a peek at what they worked so hard for you to see.”

So no holds will be barred for this virtually orgiastic street party, except partiers are strongly advised to bring no sand. The party used to be in Atlanta, where it was called Freaknik and mainly attended by college kids. It was fun enough in the beginning but then went bad for residents who did not appreciate the traffic jam, and the mounting number of crimes, with 143 arrests in 1994.

For example, a girl was reportedly dragged out of her car during Freaknik and raped on its hood in front of a cheering crowd. The city fathers, most of whom were black, by the way, instituted a massive towing program. Taking away the rides discouraged and ended the so-called tourist event.

Well, 143 arrests, as in Atlanta, would not be much to write home about after the revelers started pouring into South Beach in 2000 CE. Try 1,000 or more busts when the street party really got going. Some men brought their guns. A few men wound up being true to Gangsta Rap, so there were shootings over the years. Naturally, most of the crimes were committed by males, mostly black males. What would one expect of Black Beach Week?

Every crowd has its unruly minority. Many residents flee South Beach with the advent of Black Beach Week if they can afford it. I cannot, but I strove to avoid the entertainment district a block from my residence after being addressed with a hateful speech on the beach.

Mind you, anyone who objects to Black Beach Week risks being called a racist. Sad to say, the vast majority of partiers who attend the event are law-abiding people who want to have some fun in the Sun while celebrating their skin color and related culture. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, yet when you divide people into groups, the groups will find themselves instinctively at odds with one another even though the members were originally friends.

Miami, as everyone knows, had terrible racial issues back in the day, and the vestige survives.  It is unfair to put the rap solely on Urban Beach Week for the mayhem and murder since shooting your gun from time to time on South Beach is rather normal. In fact, Ocean Drive, the strip on the ocean, has become notorious for outrageous behavior by the gangsta culture, not to mention the robbing and or raping of tourists.

Alcohol was suspect for fueling the misbehavior because that popular drug has ruined hundreds of millions of lives since settled civilization dawned with fermentation technology, so an effort was made to prohibit alcohol service after 2:00 AM. The city commission majority was timid and opted for a referendum to that end, which was naturally opposed by the tourist industry. The question failed in the face of a well-funded campaign supporting the notion that it is quite alright to have drink or two and have some fun. One young man asked his friend why there were any hours at all and was told because people have to go to work in the mornings. Most of the voters approving did not live near Ocean Drive, so what did they care?

Things really got out of hand in 2011. A Floridian in a car was surrounded and executed by police after he allegedly tried to run down some bicycle patrolmen. A gun would be found hidden in the car several days later. Evidence was allegedly destroyed by police officers and city attorneys. Some residents lauded the shooting.

That was the tipping point. The city commission that had compromised itself for the tourist trade for more and more dollars repented when confronted with public ire and worldwide bad publicity for the trade. Meetings with outside experts were held in 2012, and a crowd-control plan was adopted. Checkpoints were set up where license-plate readers were employed to weed out criminals. The traffic was then corralled and run in a big circle, barring it from residential areas.

So far so good, or so one would hope, and the appearance of some order to the chaos was appreciated. Still, people

Urban Beach
Michael Grieco

brought in guns and drugs, and serious crimes were committed. So former Commission Michael Grieco thought branding the weekend as a real Memorial Day weekend would help mix the crowd and create a more respectful environment.

Memorial Day is a rather somber celebratory event. People gather together to remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives for the country at the bidding of its government. Patriotic parades, picnics, and bands would be appropriate. People might differ in their opinions about the causes fought for, and perhaps African Americans would remark on the discrimination they suffered in the military, yet everyone would embrace the higher cause that brings them together providing them with the liberty to peacefully disagree.

The cost of controlling the South Beach Urban Week crowds already ran into many millions of dollars over a decade. And now additional hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended to bring in an Air & Sea show, with jet fighters screaming overhead, ships floating offshore, helicopters staging rescues in the water right off the beach, and so on.  That really seemed to help last year although, sad to say, the event was punctuated with shootings.

This year spirits were dampened by the threat of a tropical storm. The air show only had a couple of jets briefly flying in a big circle. The sea show was canceled except for a helicopter rescue operation. The rain was not so bad, really. When the Sun came out, a modest crowd came out from under the rocks including yours truly. I noticed Urban Beachwhat appeared to be a few more white faces than usual, but very few kids. It was definitely not a family thing. Some men were going around and hustling women, so I supposed they had read the Black Beach Week promotion.

So did the crowd control measures adopted and the Memorial Day branding work? The Miami Beach Police Department reported 130 arrests this year, of which 37 were felonies and 93 were misdemeanors. That does not seem to be many in comparison with the past. The media blamed the low numbers on the inclement weather.

I culled past arrest numbers reported by the media since 2001. I was missing two years, so I contacted the police department for those numbers, and I received two spreadsheets displaying arrest summaries over the last eleven years. They were apparently filled in manually instead of automatically through an import from the database. The years on the two spreadsheets partially overlapped. I noticed right off the bat significant discrepancies in the numbers of crimes reported for the same year in two instances. Some of the numbers also varied substantially from those reported by media immediately after the annual events.

So the police source was obviously unreliable. My request for access to the database to make queries and compile reports was not responded to. I have for several years pleaded with city officials for the regular public release of arrest summaries for all crimes, not just a few felonies included in Part I of the Uniform Crime Report published by the FBI. Florida does not provide for accumulation and reporting of data on around twenty-two crimes for the FBI Part 2 report, so that would be up to the city. Some progressive cities, such as Minneapolis, provide all that information online. My requests have been greeted with deaf ears or lame excuses except that a release of exhaustive information might “scare the tourists away.” They are already being frightened away by merely anecdotal reports blown up in mainstream media.

I used the data from the two spreadsheets, using the larger of two numbers when they varied, to construct a graph. I expected to see a substantial drop in criminal activity after the institution of the crowd control program if not the Memorial Day branding effort. As anyone can see, there was, in fact, a steady decline in arrests several years before the control program, which continued after its institution, and now the arrests appear to have bottomed out.


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One might jump to the conclusion that millions of dollars have been spent with no obvious benefits, except to keep the traffic out of residential neighborhoods. The event has simply tapered off over the years, lost its popularity, wore out its welcome.

No doubt any responsible researcher would protest that conclusion. Several factors influencing the data outcomes could be at play and produce other conclusions. That is why I suggested to Mayor Dan Gelber that a professional study is conducted. Just muddling through everything is not always the best policy. A scientific administration calls for a study to follow up on the results of the implementation of the programs recommended by experts.

City officials should definitely cooperate in obtaining a statistical analysis of Urban Weekend records from 2001 to 2018 to assess the benefits if any of the millions expended to address related issues, factoring in policing results, weather conditions, policy directives regarding arrests and citations, numbers of officers deployed, and crowd size, and, hopefully, comparisons with other events. They should also cooperate in providing regular online summaries of all categories of crimes.

What politicians should and could do often differs from what they would do. We shall see if Solomon was correct about events under the Sun since time immemorial.

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