Miami Beach commissioners have voted to “end” spring break in South Beach.
Whatever that means in the real world.
With their draconian measures — throwing perimeter fencing, early curfews and limits on alcohol sales at drug sales and random, often personally targeted gun violence — the city seems to be creating something akin to a prison.
The elephant in the room is their hope to make the March travel destination less appealing to a certain demographic: the hip-hop, reggaeton and trap-music-loving Black and Latino crowd.
Has anyone even bothered to understand them, if not as people, then as consumers of what we sell — a tropical cultural wonderland?
Imagine this: If a handful of European tourists, whether mentally ill or in the drug trade, shot at other Europeans every year, ruining the party for everyone else, would Miami Beach officials be shutting down South Beach as a destination?
Yet, said Commissioner Alex Fernandez: “The message has to be resoundingly clear: Miami Beach is shutting down spring break.”
Good luck with the wishful thinking that young Blacks and Latinos, as enamored with Miami’s cool vibe as the white European Art Basel crowd, will hear the message and go elsewhere.
Plus, while city officials do have the right to make rules, they can’t shut down a public beach.
There’s still a Civil Rights Act in place, including in Florida, despite the resurgence of blatant racism as official policy in some political circles.
South Beach & Panama City Beach
Why all this flagellation over spring break, as if we were the only ones dealing with unruly crowds?
By the headlines South Beach gets every year, one would think the Art Deco enclave, a year-round party spot, is Florida’s top spring break hangout.
But we’re not.
That distinction, according to travel sites, belongs to the Panhandle’s Panama City Beach, where last year’s mayhem — of a size and scope comparable to Miami Beach’s — ensued.
Local WJHG Channel 7 describes it this way: “There were more than 160 arrests, 75 illegal guns seized by local law enforcement, shootings, riots and closed businesses and roads.” Eighty-seven city and county law enforcement officers responded to the weekend chaos.
Three young people, identified as university students, were shot and critically injured.
Said restaurant owner Dave Trepanier: “It was just complete chaos and lunacy. I mean people come down here and trash our parking lots and our businesses. We had to shut down; cost us thousands of dollars.”
Guns and drugs were in the mix in Panama City Beach’s spring break, too, police said.
This year’s event is scheduled for next weekend. “Panama City Beach Spring Break Takeover,” a flier calls it, adding: “Don’t come on vacation and leave on probation.”
So, South Beach isn’t alone dealing with unruly, and even lawless, spring break crowds — except that the people working crowd control and crime issues in Panama City Beach seem to be law-enforcement leaders, not politicians.
By comparison this year, Miami Beach police reported at least 322 arrests between the longer time frame of Feb. 27 and Sunday, and confiscated more than 70 firearms, Associated Press reported.
That’s actually an improvement over last year’s 1,000 arrests.
Perhaps some of the good ideas implemented this year like providing scheduled programming worked? Who knows without some proper assessment? Seems to not have mattered to city commissioners, who decided to put up a hostile front before the beach crowds, which had dwindled as of this writing, even leave.
Miami Beach dilemma
I don’t think the spring break drama is all about race or music preference. Plenty of residents wish Art Basel and its traffic jams disappeared, too. The only thing that makes it tolerable is the brevity of its Wednesday-to-Sunday run.
Miami Beach, supposedly one of the most liberal spaces in Florida, has always had a personality disorder and a love-hate relationship with its tourists. I remember when Cuban-refugee families weren’t who local hoteliers wanted to serve during a summer weekend.
We, too, were considered too rowdy for the Jackie Gleason crowd.
The city runs on other people’s money, but there’s a great disconnect between what residents want, need and deserve and what being a popular destination entails. Miami Beach gave up being a homey, family-friendly city ages ago.
What do city leaders expect when you build on a barrier island nothing but high-rises to be filled with rich foreigners and second-home-owning Americans who rent them out?
The lack of affordable housing drove families away to suburban communities a long, long time ago. The high cost and inconvenience of living ran the elderly out of town.
So what’s left?
A party town, the only thing that never fades away.