As curfew struck and police moved to clear Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive on Saturday, throngs of revelers stood shoulder-to-shoulder, packing the street. In footage captured by local media, people danced on top of cars, some clutching liquor bottles. One man threw fistfuls of cash.
Then, with sirens blaring and the sound of pepper balls being fired, those in the crowd ran, briefly causing a stampede.
The chaotic scene played out the first night police enforced a curfew in response to an “overwhelming” volume of spring break visitors. City officials had declared a state of emergency earlier that day, pointing to several instances in which crowds of partyers turned disruptive and violent.
During an emergency meeting Sunday, city commissioners voted to extend emergency orders imposing an 8 p.m. curfew in the entertainment district and limiting access to causeways leading to the island city. The measures are set to continue Thursday-Sunday until April 11, the end of the spring break period.
“I have personally had trouble even sleeping at night, worrying about what’s going to happen in the city,” said Mayor Dan Gelber, a Democrat. “And that shouldn’t be the state of any mayor or any commissioner or any manager or any police chief.”
With its miles of beaches and famed party scene, Miami Beach has long been a spring break destination. City officials have for years attempted to crack down, citing raucous crowds and occasional fights. In 2019, police in armor patrolled the beach as prison transport vehicles stood ready to carry away noncompliant visitors. The next year, officers tackled and punched spring breakers who were resisting arrest, the Miami Herald reported.
Such actions have drawn criticism from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, with leaders noting that many of those who visit over spring break are Black. Some Black leaders expressed concern over the city’s latest crackdown attempts, including the use of pepper balls to help clear Ocean Drive on Saturday night.
“I was very disappointed,” Stephen Hunter Johnson, chairman of Miami-Dade’s Black Affairs Advisory Committee, told the Miami Herald. “I think when they’re young Black people [on South Beach], the response is, ‘Oh my God, we have to do something.’ “
The mayor and other city officials insisted they were targeting conduct rather than specific groups of people. Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements said officers used pepper balls Saturday night in response to some in the crowd rushing toward them.
The city has been mostly calm during the day but volatile and unpredictable in some areas at night, according to authorities. Clements said there had been several stampedes, including one in which a woman cut her leg while trying to run away. Most alarming, he said, was when a man fired a gun into the air.
“How long can you go before something bad happens and you realize that you didn’t say something?” Clements said.
Since Feb. 3, the police department said, about 1,000 arrests have been made, including 350 on felony charges. About 51% of arrests involved non-Floridians. Officers also seized 80 firearms. Police in nearby cities have sent reinforcements to help manage crowds.
The Clevelander, an Ocean Drive hotel that often sees boisterous crowds, halted its food and beverage operations Friday, citing safety concerns. The closure will continue until at least Wednesday, the resort said, adding that it had “grown increasingly concerned with the safety of our dedicated employees and valued customers and the ability of the City to maintain a safe environment in the surrounding area.”
This year has seen more visitors and more disruptions than previous years, officials said, with interim city manager Raul Aguila describing it as “a spring break like no other.”
Miami Beach leaders attributed the surge in visitors to coronavirus-related closures in other areas, coupled with cheap flights and demand for travel. Florida reopened before many other states and has fewer restrictions.
“It’s a lot of pent-up demand from the pandemic and people wanting to get out,” Commissioner David Richardson said. “And our state has been publicly advertised as being open, so that’s contributed to the issue.”
The emergency order noted that many revelers have been crowding together without wearing masks or keeping their distance. Gelber said the virus is “still very present in our community.” People continue to be infected and check into hospitals, and variants pose a new threats.
Although the emergency measures passed unanimously Sunday, commissioners expressed dismay that they were necessary. Pointing out that the city has been battling spring break for years, Commissioner Ricky Arriola said the city has gone further this year than he had imagined and yet problems persist.
“At what point are we going to think about doing something different?” he said.
Video: http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/national/miami-beach-declares-state-of-emergency-in-response-to-large-spring-break-crowds/2021/03/21/27bf207b-10c8-4ce3-97f4-f10737f42aa0_video.html(REF:yij/The Washington Post)
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