Miami Beach unfairly blames Urban Beach Weekend for longstanding ills

Two visitors toast each other with big, fruity cocktails during Urban Beach Weekend.
Two visitors toast each other with big, fruity cocktails during Urban Beach Weekend. Miami Herald Staff

This year Miami Beach hosted the 16th Urban Beach Weekend an annual, privately promoted event that has traditionally featured top hip-hop musical performers and has drawn a large African-American contingent to South Beach. The event has been marred with criminal activity, including shootings and stabbings.

This particular Memorial Day weekend seemed to be flowing smoothly. “In the three years I’ve served as police chief, this year was the quietest in terms of arrests,” Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates said. Unfortunately, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, an argument over a parking space led a shootout. Two people died.

Jeffery Alexander, a 19-year-old rapper from Brooklyn, was charged with the murder of Homestead resident Ladarian Tyrell Phillips, 30. The second victim was one of the suspects in the car with Alexander. He was shot and killed by police after resisting arrest.

By Memorial Day, before the police investigation had ended and the dust had settled, reaction from Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco was swift — perhaps too swift. His statements were understandably emotional, but out of place, discriminatory and certainly ill-advised.

“Urban Beach Weekend is a thing of the past,” the commissioner unilaterally declared. It was a knee-jerk, inappropriate reaction reminiscent of former Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s inadvertent and constitutionally inaccurate “I’m in control” statement after President Reagan was shot.

Miami Beach officials give an update on the shooting in Miami Beach on Sunday evening. One person was shot and killed following a dispute over a parking space. Police then shot and killed a suspect following a chase.

Grieco, who is running for Miami Beach mayor, singlehandedly recommended the shutting down of Urban Beach Weekend without consulting with Mayor Philip Levine, his fellow commissioners or taking the time to appreciate the long, sordid historyof African Americans in Miami Beach.

Another Miami Beach commissioner and congressional candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez also prematurely chimed in last week in response to the events on Urban Beach Weekend. In a letter to City Manager Jimmy Morales, Rosen Gonzalez criticized Chief Oates, stating that he “should be the chief in Palm Beach and not Miami Beach.” She also went on to write that, “We need to give the cops back their bullets, remove their body cams, give them their dignity and let them work all the off hours they want.”

Rosen Gonzalez’s comments were inaccurate and politically immature. Oates’ performance has been professional and effective after taking over a toxic police force wrought with police misconduct and excesses. Rosen Gonzalez has apologized for her harsh words.

“We are an open, diverse city,” Levine said last week. “This isn’t an Urban Beach Weekend problem, it is an Ocean Drive problem and it’s chronic.” The mayor’s plan, which he will propose to the Miami Beach Commission at their June 7 meeting, is the shutting down of liquor sales at 2 a.m. on Ocean Drive. Police Chief Oates seconded the mayor’s assertion that this measure will reduce crime. “Arrest reports indicate that much of the trouble on Ocean Drive happens during those 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. hours,” he said.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine held an emergency news conference on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 to announce measures to address Memorial Day weekend incidents and said he is not calling for a ban of Urban Beach Weekend.

At that same commission meeting, Grieco will propose legislation that would restrict liquor sales on Ocean Drive during the last two weeks of May — specifically targeting Urban Beach Weekend.

Over the years, I’ve heard sensible complaints from merchants and residents on the Beach about Urban Beach Weekend and other holidays. However, the solution should not be shortsighted and unfair.

Levine’s plan is comprehensive and just. The economic interests of nightclubs on Ocean Drive should not supersede Miami Beach residents’ or visitors’ quality of life or safety.

This history of bigotry (and anti Semitism for that matter) in Miami Beach is a shameful one. Interracial couples were arrested on Miami Beach and charged with Florida statutes that prohibited “racial mixing.” Many great African-American performers were denied the right to stay in the very hotels they in which they entertained. In fact, black Miamians were not allowed to swim in Miami Beach until the early 1960s.

No one condones criminal activity on Miami Beach, but to blame it all on Urban Beach Weekend as Grieco has done is simplistic and discriminatory, which given Miami Beach’s not-so-distant past is par for the course.