In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Don’t kill Ultra for excesses

 

fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com

Three days of loud “thump, thump” electronic music, eye-popping light shows and throngs of unruly concertgoers are any neighborhood’s nightmare, urban or not.

A security guard trampled by gate-crashers fighting for her life is cause for outrage and should result in an investigation and charges. A 21-year-old concert patron dead in a car — according to friends from an overdose resulting from a drug added to his drink — is also criminal.

A scantily clad girl straddling an unconscious man and peeing on his face as other concertgoers capture the moment with their cellphones is disgusting and pathetic.

I could go on about the worst of Ultra Music Festival 2014 at Bayfront Park, including statistics similar to Miami Beach’s Urban Weekend in May: 84 arrests and 153 rescue runs.

But no matter how much we hate electronic music and the behavior of a small percentage of fans, the City of Miami shouldn’t be so quick to cancel the internationally celebrated Ultra.

Handing down the death penalty on a music event should be a last resort, not the first thing city leaders utter when things go wrong.

“This is not appropriate for downtown Miami,” Mayor Tomás Regalado has told every media outlet in town, calling for the show’s ouster. Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represents downtown, wants Ultra gone as well.

They cite complaints from area residents and business owners, but the real picture is a mixed-bag of pros and cons: The festival is estimated to bring $79 million and 1,000 jobs to the local economy on a slow weekend in March. Virtually every hotel in the area is booked to capacity; restaurants are busy. Underpaid police officers get to make extra money working security.

All this said, Ultra organizers shouldn’t be let off the hook for last weekend’s fiascos.

They’re responsible for the safety of employees and concertgoers. They failed on both counts — and they should be brought to the table to negotiate improved conditions for the annual event.

The city should require that Ultra provide sturdy, high-quality fencing to contain the crowd, and, unlike what happened this year, the construction should be inspected. Police told an Ultra engineer that chain-link fencing, even doubled, wouldn’t hold up — but no one followed up to ensure compliance. Gate-crashers ruthlessly trampled over the guard at that weak spot.

The city also should require security commensurate with the crowd. Not young people on part-time duty, but professional law enforcement. There isn’t one set of laws outside of Ultra and another inside. And if having appropriate policing kills enthusiasm, so be it. Let Ultra die a natural death in Miami.

As for the failures of this year, Ultra organizers should be penalized somehow. A one-year hiatus until they get their security act together? Or perhaps a move to a venue more apt for crowd control and noise levels?

But shutting down an arts event is not a role for government.

What went on at Ultra large-scale — drinking, drug use, insufficient fabric on bodies, sexed-up dancing — was par for the course in the 1970s dance clubs. Still is today.

Every generation has its excesses — and most of us survive them.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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