Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Don’t silence Ultra — yet

 

OUR OPINION: Miami, police and organizers are accountable for safety at popular music festival

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

A security guard was trampled and critically injured by stampeding fence jumpers whom she tried to hold back during last weekend’s Ultra Music Festival in downtown Miami. It was a tragedy that never should have been allowed to happen.

Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa, who is to be commended for quickly addressing the issue, said a decision by organizers left Erica Mack vulnerable. Hours before show time, police asked an Ultra engineer to reinforce a chain-link fence, assuming a stronger, taller fence would be installed. Bad assumption. Organizers simply added a second chain-link fence, and Chief Orosa admitted that officers did not double back to make sure the reinforcement was appropriate. That lapse never should have happened, either.

In a statement, organizers distance themselves from the ticketless gatecrashers “determined to gain unauthorized entry” to the event. Nice try, but as Miami police work to determine responsibility for what happened, organizers might face liability charges.

Rightly outraged by the mob that left Ms. Mack, 28, hospitalized with a fractured skull and a broken leg, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff are leading the call for Ultra’s organizers to unplug their giant electronic dance music speakers and take them and the revelers they attract to another city far, far, far away.

Understandable, but an overreaction. First, city officials should not wage a generational fight and growl: “Get off my lawn, kids — with your loud music, drugs and inappropriate clothing.”

Rather, the city needs to be way tougher in how the event is policed, especially when it comes to drug use and crowd control. There were 165,000 attendees over Ultra’s three days at Bayfront Park. The city, which grants permits for Ultra, can’t simply be parental, it must be proactive, too. Find a solution, much like the city of Miami Beach has done in hosting the hip-hop-themed Urban Beach Weekend.

Although the events are two different animals — one is a three-day concert, the other is a three-day street party with many events — Miami Beach has learned from experience to treat the weekend more like a hurricane, issuing a 13-page “Major Event Plan” that deals with security, logistics, crowd management, DUI checkpoints and pedestrian and traffic flow.

Granted, the Miami Beach event has had spates of violence and charges of questionable police shootings. Some revelers now complain that blanket policing has ruined the buzz. Oh, well.

Miami should douse some of Ultra’s buzz a bit, too, without killing it outright. This year, there were 84 arrests at Ultra. Last year, there were 167 arrests. What killed one concert-goer, Adonis Peña Escoto, found dead in a car near the festival, has yet to be determined. Miami Beach police arrested 176 people last year during Urban Beach Weekend; there were no deaths.

Our second concern is more fiscal: Those electronic-music lovers — 65 percent of them drawn from around the country and world — who swarm downtown Miami to do their jumping-in-place dance, pay as much as $399 admission to the highly popular, annual three-day festival. This, in turn, brings about $79 million in economic impact, which includes 1,000 jobs. That’s an amount any financially strapped city would do a jig to land.

Ultra’s organizers should not be given a free pass for failing to adequately fortify the weak fencing that gave way to a mob. Ms. Mack’s situation demands it. And if they are to be allowed to do business with Miami again, then everyone — from inconvenienced residents to reveling ravers — needs to understand that the rules will be different.

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