Posted on March 23, 2021

Black Leaders React to South Beach Spring Break Curfew, Crackdown

Martin Vassolo, Miami Herald, March 21, 2021

After weeks of uninhibited partying on South Beach by spring breakers, police turned away throngs of people — many of them Black — from world-famous Ocean Drive with a SWAT truck, pepper balls and sound cannons.

The tactics were intended to enforce an 8 p.m. curfew announced only hours earlier on Saturday to rid the city of what police and politicians have described as unruly and sometimes violent late-night crowds. And the tactics appeared to have the desired effect: By mid-evening, police tweeted out a picture of the empty intersection at Ocean Drive and Eighth Street.

But the use of force to clear out people of color from South Beach alarmed some Black leaders. And if Miami Beach has openly recoiled at the behavior of at-times chaotic crowds filling the city’s entertainment district every weekend, some in South Florida are having a similar reaction to the way the city and its police have handled the presence of thousands of people of color.

“I was very disappointed,” Stephen Hunter Johnson, chairman of Miami-Dade’s Black Affairs Advisory Committee, said Sunday morning. “I think when they’re young Black people [on South Beach], the response is, ‘Oh my God, we have to do something.’”

Videos on social media showed Miami Beach police arriving on Ocean Drive Saturday evening to find a massive crowd still on the street after the curfew kicked in. Videos also showed officers turning on their sirens and, at one point, firing pepper balls into a crowd, sending people scrambling.

At a special meeting on Sunday, Miami Beach city commissioners extended the Thursday through Sunday curfew and causeway closures through April 12.


Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements told the Miami Herald on Sunday that Saturday night’s incident would be reviewed internally. He said his officers only fired tear gas as the crowd began to surge toward them. He said police wouldn’t fire the pepper balls simply to break up a crowd of people.

“I think officers felt threatened at the time,” the chief said. “There has to be an element there of either the crowd fighting or coming at officers.”

He said Sunday on WPLG’s “This Week in South Florida” that spring break this year has been challenging for police due to Florida’s lax COVID-19 rules that attract planeloads of tourists. He also noted “backlash” from the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer that have made police confrontations more common.


Clements said police have been “tolerant” of peaceful partying in the streets, but he said some people have no intentions of following the law. And when officers try to make arrests, crowds circle them, he said.

In recent weeks, people have thrown bottles at police and put their hands on officers, police said. During spring break alone, police say at least five officers have been hurt.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said the curfew and causeway closings announced at 4 p.m. Saturday were aimed to prevent more violence and disorder. He described the city as a powder keg ready to blow. Residents cheered the crackdown, some saying they’re afraid to leave their homes.

“We’re not targeting a group of people, we’re targeting conduct,” he told WPLG-Local 10. “If you can’t keep streets safe, then you’re not doing your job.”


“We have an enormous number of people coming here,” he said at a news conference Saturday. “{snip} If you see some of the photos and the videos, it feels like a rock concert everywhere.”


But at a time when the country is undergoing a racial reckoning, the optics of police officers grappling with crowds and city leaders condemning a largely Black group of visitors has been unavoidable. Daniella Pierre, president of the NAACP’s Miami-Dade chapter, tweeted “#SpringBreakingWhileBlack” on Saturday night. She later added: “Unacceptable to say the least.”

Even before Saturday night’s confrontation between police and party-hungry crowds, frustration with the way the city was policing — and talking about — spring break crowds on South Beach was growing among local Black leaders. DeAnne Connolly Graham, a member of Miami Beach’s newly formed Black Affairs Advisory Committee, told the Miami Herald Friday that “we have to realize that we are definitely fighting an undertone of racism” among the city’s largely white resident base, some of whom have called Black spring breakers “thugs” or “animals” on social media.

While denouncing the fights and police confrontations, Connolly Graham and others said city leaders should in the future consider funding cultural programs to give visitors something to do besides drink in the streets.


Recent weekends were marred by confrontations between cops and crowds. Police said Friday that at least five officers have been injured. A 61-year-old taxi driver was reportedly injured after revelers danced on his car. A shooting near Ocean Drive on Monday killed a 27-year-old Miami Beach resident.

{snip} On Friday, the Clevelander South Beach, one of the city’s most recognizable brands, shut down its food and beverage operation, citing unruly crowds and fights.


Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said about twice as many people have been arrested compared to last year. The city has made about 1,000 arrests since the first week of February, he said. They have also seized about 80 firearms, including four on Saturday night.

Chief Clements, who said he was “alarmed” by the number of firearms he’s seeing, said most of the problem seems to be that people who drive here are bringing weapons down from open-carry states, where they are permitted.


When Black tourists picked Miami Beach as a popular party spot on Memorial Day weekend 20 years ago, the city — which was caught unprepared for the big crowds — responded by flooding the city with police. {snip}

In recent years, spring break has drawn more Black tourists — and more officers. Confrontations circulate quickly on social media. Last year, when video of rough arrests went viral, Johnson, Pierre and then-NAACP Miami-Dade Chapter President Ruban Roberts called for the police chief to resign.