Miami Beach con­trols Memo­rial Day rev­elry


MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Af­ter years of con­tro­versy re­gard­ing Ur­ban Beach Week, the an­nual Memo­rial Day week­end when thou­sands of young African-Amer­i­cans con­verge on the is­land for three days of par­ty­ing, the Miami-Dade NAACP and the City of Miami Beach waded into a dis­cus­sion aimed at cre­at­ing a more palat­able ex­pe­ri­ence for vis­i­tors and res­i­dents.

NAACP Miami-Dade Pres­i­dent Ruban Roberts and Miami Beach Com­mis­sioner Ricky Ar­riola mod­er­ated last week’s fo­rum held at the Betsy Ho­tel. Pan­elists in­cluded Betsy Ho­tel owner Jonathan Plutzik; Miami Beach po­lice spokesper­son Ernesto Ro­driguez, Florida Memo­rial Univer­sity Pro­fes­sor of African Amer­i­can His­tory Tameeka Hobbs, At­tor­ney Mar­lon Hill, Greater Miami Cul­tural and Vis­i­tors Bu­reau Vice Pres­i­dent of Mul­ti­cul­tural Tourism & De­vel­op­ment Con­nie Kin­nard, and Miami Beach res­i­dent Jeff Feld­man.

Ar­riola co-chairs the Memo­rial Day Week­end Blue Rib­bon Panel launched in 2017. He said de­spite Miami Beach suc­cess­fully host­ing nu­mer­ous prom­i­nent events, Memo­rial Day Week­end has “his­tor­i­cally been, for the past 20 years, a week­end that has been chal­leng­ing…” “We do large events very well.We do Art Basel, Food and Wine, we do Su­per Bowl par­ties, and we do Gay Pride. We do all of th­ese great, great large events but there’s al­ways been one event we haven’t been able to fig­ure out and that’s Memo­rial Day Week­end,” Ar­riola said. “Largely, we have just had a lot of un­sanc­tioned events and hoped for the best.”

Memo­rial Day week­end, also known as Ur­ban Beach Week, has been a point of con­tention on South Beach for sev­eral years. The city’s re­sponse to the pre­dom­i­nantly black vis­i­tors has been markedly dif­fer­ent than its re­sponse to large pre­dom­i­nantly white groups.

In a 2016 New Times oped, ACLU at­tor­ney John Leon wrote: “As some­one who has at­tended Ur­ban Beach Week as an ACLU le­gal ob­server most years, (or­ga­nized by Man­ning Salazar of the Greater Miami ACLU) I’ve been sur­prised by how un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally un­wel­com­ing of African-Amer­i­cans peo­ple are. Not only the po­lice, but many of the res­i­dents and of­fi­cials who leave town dur­ing the week­end. The ugli­est com­ments are of­ten by those who have not been on the beach dur­ing UBW.”

Kin­nard ad­dressed the sen­ti­ment by say­ing, “Don’t try to de­scribe a KISS con­cert if you’ve never been to one.” She said she made it a point to visit South Beach dur­ing the Memo­rial Day week­end so that she could form an opin­ion based on first­hand ob­ser­va­tions; not­ing that many peo­ple form a per­cep­tion about the week­end, “With­out even re­ally par­tic­i­pat­ing.”

The fo­rum’s au­di­ence in­cluded me­dia, Miami Beach busi­ness own­ers and res­i­dents; some ap­par­ently fed up with what has been cat­e­go­rized as three days of de­bauch­ery, ex­ces­sive noise and un­con­trolled lit­ter per­pet­u­ated by young scant­ily-clad blacks.

Adding per­spec­tive to con­cerns re­gard­ing the amount of trash re­main­ing when the week­end con­cludes, Hill pointed out that or­ga­niz­ers of large events typ­i­cally an­tic­i­pate some de­gree of trash be­ing left be­hind be­cause of the sheer num­ber of peo­ple in­volved; point­ing to New Or­leans’ Mardi Gras fes­tiv­i­ties as an ex­am­ple.

Hobbs’ con­cerns about the week­end cen­tered on the “crim­i­nal­iza­tion of black peo­ple,” some­thing she said hap­pens “all the time” across the coun­try. The pro­fes­sor and au­thor of "Democ­racy Abroad, Lynch­ing at Home" said it’s painful to see the way black peo­ple, “who are com­ing to do what other peo­ple come to South Beach to do” are treated dif­fer­ently. “The me­dia re­ports speak of it as an in­va­sion,” said Hobbs In ad­di­tion to the re­turn of last year’s Air and Sea Show, the city is also plan­ning to co­or­di­nate a host of events dur­ing the week­end that Ar­riola said will be more “high class.”

The his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of young African-Amer­i­cans gath­er­ing in an area of South Florida where, not too long ago, their an­ces­tors could only fre­quent as cur­fewed em­ploy­ees adds a poignant dy­namic to a con­ver­sa­tion geared to­ward mak­ing the week­end a pleas­ant time for all in­volved.

Of­fer­ing wel­com­ing re­marks at the be­gin­ning of the fo­rum, Mayor Gel­ber shared that he and cur­rent Miami Dade School Board mem­ber, Dorothy Ben­dross-Mindin­gall were once col­leagues in the Florida House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

As they dis­cussed their mu­tual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of parts of Miami Beach, Gel­ber said he told his friend, “When we were young you couldn’t be in our city with­out an ID, and now decades later,” you’re rep­re­sent­ing it.

To which he said Ben-dross-Min­dall replied, “We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a ways to go.”


COM­MU­NITY DIS­CUS­SION: DeAnne Con­nolly Gra­ham, chair of the Miami Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce's Women's Busi­ness Coun­cil, in­ter­acts with fel­low au­di­ence mem­ber at fo­rum.

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