Miami Beach curfew for spring breakers prompts racism complaints

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On Sunday, the second night of an emergency 8pm curfew in Miami Beach’s Art Deco Cultural District, a police squad came upon a large crowd of spring breakers having a good time on 8th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, a residential area just west of Ocean Drive, the city’s famous street where the annual party usually takes place.

According to a police report, approximately 500 people had gathered in the streets and the sidewalks wreaking havoc. They stomped on top of cars, causing roofs to cave in and windshields to shatter. They danced, drank booze and smoked marijuana. Just the type of rowdy behavior often associated with college students decompressing from a long semester of classes.

Except this time, there was a dollop of pandemic fatigue further riling up the partying masses.

Using loudspeakers, cops ordered the block party to disperse or they would go to jail, the police report states. Over the weekend, Miami Beach police made 156 arrests, including a 17-year-old from Orlando and a 30-year-old Indiana man accused of inciting a riot by exhorting people to continue turning up on Pennsylvania Avenue.

For Mitch Novick, a Miami Beach activist who owns a small hotel and apartment complex in the Art Deco Cultural District, the crowds spilling over into the residential area signaled the city’s attempts to control the spring breakers had failed spectacularly.

“I manage a building in that area and my tenants called me terrified,” Novick said. “The amount of destruction I saw on social media was mind-boggling. By enacting an 8pm curfew, the city sent the rowdy crowds into a peaceful residential neighborhood.”

Spring break may be a yearly ritual in these parts. But there was very little normal about this year’s version, carried out against the backdrop of a pandemic that has ravaged Florida and also triggered a police response that has been accused of racism when it comes to dealing with non-white partygoers.

Since last month, Miami Beach elected officials and law enforcement have struggled to subdue the rambunctious tourists coming to the city and to escape the confines of states still locked down because of Covid-19. They have been buoyed by Florida’s anti-Covid-19 restrictions governor, Ron DeSantis, who at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando declared the Sunshine State was an “oasis of freedom in a nation suffering from the yoke of oppressive lockdowns”.

On 20 March, Miami Beach declared a state of emergency that entailed the curfew and shutting down the three main causeways into the city from 9pm to 5pm except for residents, workers and hotel guests. This came after Miami Beach engaged in an adversarial public relations campaign warning out-of-towners that they risked arrest if they did not party responsibly. A spokesperson for Miami Beach’s mayor, Dan Gelber, did not respond to email requests for comment.

The heavy-handed tactics have been decried by social justice advocates as racist because they are geared to a predominantly African American tourist clientele that has made the city a spring break destination in recent years.

People enjoy spring break festivities ahead of an 8pm curfew imposed by local authorities in Miami Beach this week.
People enjoy spring break festivities ahead of an 8pm curfew imposed by local authorities in Miami Beach this week. Photograph: Marco Bello/Reuters

Daniella Pierre, president of the Miami chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, said the city’s approach in dealing with spring break crowds was very intimidating. “The measures taken this year by Miami Beach and its officials wasn’t a very hospitable approach,” Pierre said. “It was not welcoming and we didn’t appreciate it at all, especially when you have other events and you don’t use that tone.”

Even in a pandemic, the city could have organized and supported events such as outdoor concerts that follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to minimize the spread of Covid-19 in large gatherings, Pierre added.

“We don’t condone violence or lawlessness,” Pierre said. “But everyone has a right to be treated fairly and maintain their right to be on Miami Beach.”

Between 3 February and 21 March, Miami Beach police and other law enforcement agencies have made 1,050 arrests citywide with more than half occurring within the Art Deco Cultural District, which includes Ocean Drive, the signature street that’s been closed off to traffic and has become an open-air-style mall. More than half of the arrests have been for misdemeanors and minor municipal infractions, such as drinking and taking drugs in public, resisting arrest without violence and obstruction.

However, bursts of violence and vandalism including sidewalk cafe brawls, stomping on cars and shootings have marred the party atmosphere in the Art Deco district. The festivities recently took a dark turn when police arrested two North Carolina men for allegedly drugging and raping a woman in hotel room who died after they left her unconscious.

City leaders have insisted the tough approach is necessary to rein in the chaos and minimize the spread of Covid-19 at a time Florida leads the nation in new variants of the coronavirus. Health experts fear the spring break situation could ignite a new surge that undermines the state’s vaccination rollout.

Dr Marissa Levine, an infectious disease professor at the University of South Florida, said with Florida leading the US in cases of new variants, such as the B117 or UK, variant, it’s critical non-Floridians visiting Miami Beach and other spring break locales follow the CDC’s guidelines.

“We are in a bit of a race here,” she said. “We are trying to ramp up vaccinations and it is certainly going much better. But we are not at the point where we have enough people vaccinated. Right now, masking up and social distancing are critical to prevent that next surge.”

With people coming from all over the country to south Florida, there is also the likelihood that visitors who get infected will transport Covid-19 to other states. “Florida could be a significant cause for continuing or worsening the pandemic,” Levine said. “Viruses don’t care about borders.”

Dr Jill Roberts, who also teaches epidemiology at the same university as Levine, said spring break illustrates why it’s crucial that vaccination rollouts start shifting from high-risk groups to the most likely spreaders, people aged 18 to 49. She pointed to nationwide trends in the past week that show increases in the number of daily cases since a plateau at the end of January, including Miami-Dade, where Miami Beach is located.

“It is more than likely fueled by increased mobility in younger persons as well as risk-taking that may be a direct effect of the vaccine,” Roberts said. “This is a reason I advocate for opening up vaccination to all age groups.”

Miguel Garcia, 78, right, prepares to receive a dose of the Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, at the Miami-Dade County Tropical Park vaccination. Some are calling for age limits on vaccine eligibility to be lifted as younger people are more likely to spread the virus.
Miguel Garcia, 78, right, prepares to receive a dose of the Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, at the Miami-Dade County Tropical Park vaccination. Some are calling for age limits on vaccine eligibility to be lifted as younger people are more likely to spread the virus. Photograph: Wilfredo Lee/AP

DeSantis announced on Thursday that people 40 and older would be eligible on 29 March and that people 18 and older would be eligible on 5 April. By then spring break will be in its final days.

“Unfortunately, this was predicted based on what happened last year and we did see surges after spring break,” Roberts said. “It is largely because young people are not taking coronavirus very seriously. They really do not think they will suffer consequences from infection.”

On Thursday, when the 8pm curfew was to take effect again, recent out-of-town arrivals were making alternative plans. David Rovell, a 29-year-old arrived in South Beach the day before, said he and his friends were going to a strip club 25 minutes away in Miami Gardens, later in the evening.

“The curfew is in place so there’s nothing we can do about it,” Rovell said. “Ain’t no one give a fuck about it. We’re still gonna do what we do. We’re gonna make the best of it.”

The Baltimore, Maryland, native said he didn’t see a problem with the emergency measures Miami Beach put in place.

“I understand because everyone is coming down here,” Rovell said. “There ain’t too much going on in Baltimore and there’s a lot going on in South Beach because of spring break.”

Rovell said he didn’t have any concerns about the coronavirus. “With Covid, it hasn’t affected me or anyone I know,” he said. “I got tested for it and didn’t have it.”

On Ocean Drive, Presquila Dzakpasu, a 23-year-old student at Metropolitan State University in Denver, Colorado, said she and her friends were in Miami Beach until the end of the weekend. She had no problem with the city enacting an 8pm curfew.

“We still have the whole day to do pretty much anything,” Dzakpasu said. “I think we should be good.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, she was worried about catching Covid-19. “Now I’m a little more relaxed,” Dzakpasu said. “I just wear a mask and make sure I hand-sanitize to protect myself.”

Dzakpasu said she hadn’t felt unwelcome in Miami Beach and that the city’s aggressive campaign did not apply to her and her friends because they avoid trouble.

“If we see anything going on that’s negative, we are just going to leave,” Dzakpasu said. “We are not about drama. I just want to have fun and go to the beach.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Miami Beach curfew for spring breakers prompts racism complaints

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