Miami Beach is gearing up for its annual exercise in fear and loathing, fun in the sun, traffic jams and jamming to the beat. It’s Urban Beach Weekend, and everyone is looking to get through it without tawdry incidents or chaos, and with visitors having a good time.
After all, this mostly African-American group of partiers is filling local hotels, eating at the restaurants and buying pricey stuff at the shops.
Security, of course, will be more than evident — overkill, some say. But over the years, Miami Beach has worked hard to combine the right mix of police presence and a welcoming environment, via, for example, volunteer “goodwill ambassadors.”
This year, the festivities will kick off with a cloud hanging over them, which the proper authorities must go to great lengths to clear — transparently, efficiently and without a hint of bias or favoritism.
Unfortunately, other officials in positions of authority appear to have gone to great lengths to do just the opposite.
Two weeks ago, almost two years after Urban Beach Weekend 2011, investigators released the autopsy report for Raymond Herisse. He was shot to death after 12 Miami Beach and Hialeah officers took aim and fired — more than 100 rounds.
Sixteen hit Mr. Herisse. Three bystanders were injured by the flying bullets. It’s a miracle that no one else was killed.
If the police allegations bear out, then Mr. Herisse, 22 and a resident of Boynton Beach, clearly was not exhibiting model behavior in the first place. They say that Mr. Herisse, careening along Collins Avenue, hit an officer with his car and almost struck several others while crashing into barricades and other vehicles. The autopsy confirms that the young man was intoxicated. His blood-alcohol level tested positive for alcohol at a level of .14 — almost twice the legal limit.
At the time, police suggested that Mr. Herisse was also firing a gun. Didn’t happen, it seems. But that didn’t stop the then-police chief from crowing that a gun indeed was found — days later — hidden in Mr. Herisse’s car and asserting that the discovery alone was justification for the police officers’ actions.
That discovery of the gun hasn’t been the only thing that took an oddly long time. Investigators for almost two years failed to release Mr. Herisse’s autopsy report. Why the stonewalling? Mr. Herisse’s family and those who were wounded in the shooting rightly had clamored for months for the results.
In fact, it took a court order in April to get the information about the investigation released as part of a civil suit that the family and injured bystanders have filed.
Still, most of the records remain sealed while prosecutors decide whether the officers were justified in using lethal force. No matter what they decide, prosecutors must be ever mindful that this case already has a disturbing taint to it. And they should do nothing to add to it, further eroding public trust.
Over the years, however, Urban Beach Weekend has been a sometimes indelicate dance, a grudging welcome, an ebbing and flowing respect for civil liberties and efforts to mollify residents who say that the event draws too many people into too small a patch of real estate.
Credit the city for continuing to roll out its welcome mat, and credit the weekend’s visitors who continue to come, undaunted. It says the Beach is still the place to be, and that the city, mostly, gets it right.