Some residents, who have cheered the new measures, had complained for years about the traffic and the mess left behind by the crowds. There’s also a racial component: The estimated 250,000 beachgoers are overwhelmingly African-American but only 4.4 percent of Miami Beach’s 90,000 residents are black.
Last year was largely peaceable. But then, on Memorial Day, beachgoer Rudy Eugene attacked a homeless man, Ronald Poppo, at the Miami end of the causeway.
Eugene was shot and killed by police, but only after he chewed Poppo’s face off and blinded him.
“He apparently didn’t have a good day at the Beach,” Poppo said wryly in a July interview with police. “I guess he took it out, took it out on me or something. I don’t know.”
The memories of that bizarre Memorial Day crime are fading. And many partiers had no idea it happened, though the causeway attack became part of Miami crime lore.
On Friday afternoon, two friends from New York City packed up their beach bags and talked about their big plans for the night. It’s the first time Tahnay Gathers, 21, and Cher Grant, 24, have attended what some call “Urban Beach Week.”
They said they were a little surprised by all the police.
"It’s bittersweet," Grant said. "Because your safety should be number one. But —"
"You feel like you’re being watched," Gathers interjected.
"Yeah, you don’t know what to expect," Grant added.
Still, they’re excited for the weekend, they said. They have already seen people they know from New York City, Gathers said.
“This is the place to be,” Gathers said.
Meanwhile, an Asian couple from Delaware stood out on Miami Beach as they watched party goers take turns on Jet Ski-like water scooters.
Yihan Fu, 22, and her boyfriend are vacationing on the beach for the weekend. They didn’t know it was Urban Beach Week, Fu said. The couple has plans to see alligators and spend time at the beach. They’re likely not going to get into any parties, she said.
“We’re just going to walk and watch,” Fu said.
Same with Jake Stepney, who flew down Friday from Fredericksburg, VA. It’s his first time in Miami Beach. He doesn’t want to leave. And the police presence doesn’t bother him a bit.
“As long as I can see all the beautiful women, I’m cool with it,” he said. “I like it. I like it a lot.”
Miami Herald staff writers Evan S. Benn and Gina Cherelus contributed to this report.