When it comes to Memorial Day Hot Spots, Miami always ranks high on U.S. travelers lists. But after last weekend was marred by violence and chaos, many Miami Beach residents say they don’t want the Urban Beach Week festival in their city anymore.
Urban Beach Week, often referred to as Black Beach Week by event goers, has become one of the biggest tourist influxes for Miami. This year, with musical acts such as Keri Hilson, Chris Brown and Lloyd in town for a performance at local station, 99 Jamz’ SpringFest Concert, thousands of vacationers had come to the city looking to spend their first summer weekend basking in the sun.
However, violence erupted on the city’s popular Collins Avenue after Miami police opened fire on a car heading south. The officer reported hearing shots fired at them from the vehicle but no gun was found on the drivers body or in the car. Another police report from that night chronicles an episode that occurred an hour later where police say a man in a gray Mercedes accelerated at an officer forcing her to shoot at his car. Though no one was injured, the subsequent crash caused more chaos on a night residents have described as fear filled and “like hell.” All in all the weekend, intended for relaxation and fun, left one dead and seven injured.
Following the events this weekend, Miami officials are proposing a Memorial Day Weekend curfew and looking to boot the Urban Beach Week festival from their city. While some would like to see the festival gone altogether, according to The Miami Herald, others would like to “move to replace the hip-hop themed festival with a less rowdy event featuring jazz and blues music.”
Speaking about the weekend, Miami Beach Commissioner and CEO of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce said:
“I think we need to take back the city for the residents. It’s just not right that people live in fear.”
But the talk of getting rid of Urban Beach Week or replacing its hip-hop theme in favor of a jazz one, has sparked a debate about whether the crowd or the police are to blame for the violence.
After several violent episodes since Urban Beach Week’s start in 2001, the City of Miami ramped up its police presence both seen and plain clothed. In 2006 a record 600 officers were put on duty to ensure a safe Memorial Day weekend. The effort resulted in a record 1,010 arrests, the majority of which were for non-violent offenses such as intoxication and DUIs. The number of arrests seemed on the decline after the police push in 2006, with 784 arrested in 2007 and 382 arrested in 2008.
Many say that the waves of police on the streets have played a role in the violence and that changing the festival’s audience would ignore the accusations of police brutality that have surfaced with every year. John de Leon, president of the Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said:
“The police presence historically has seemed to heighten the tension of the event…the unfortunate part of this has been the racial component. Some of the comments that I’ve heard are really off-putting.”
It is impossible to separate the racial component away from the debate when speaking about Urban Beach week. The crowd of 250,000 Beach Week attendees are majority black, while Miami’s black residents total around 3,800, making up 4.4 percent of the city’s population total.
While Miami’s hotel industry welcomes the event, many small business owners say the Urban Beach Week crowd often cost their stores and restaurants more than they pay. Several restaurant owners say they have shut down their sidewalk cafes after stampedes in years past and lost profits due to patrons walking out before they paid for their meals. Some boutiques in South Beach have complained that they actually see decreased sales during the Memorial Day weekend as their regular clientele avoid the area.
Still many point out that other events attracting Black tourists, such as the American Black Film Festival, do not have the negative stigma attached. Miami’s business community says that while they have no problem with diversity, the hip-hop crowd is no good for the city.
Speaking about the debate over getting rid of Urban Beach Week, De Leon said Miami should not seek to exclude people who chose to visit but connect with them instead:
What do you think about the debate to end Urban Beach Week in Miami? Is the ‘rowdy’ crowd responsible for the violence? Does the large police presence exacerbate the chaos? Would a switch to a jazz festival change the Memorial Day crowd? Is race an underlying factor or a main one in this debate? Share you thoughts Clutchettes and Gents- weigh in and tell us what you think!
“I think that if you’re a tourist community, which South Beach is, you should embrace people who are coming in, who are spending money and who are enjoying themselves.”