Miami's Urban Beach Week: A Gathering of Cops
by Mel Reeves
"During Urban Beach Week, the only rights one has, are the
ones granted by the police."
The annual Urban Beach Week gathering of a few hundred
thousand primarily black youth on Memorial Day weekend on Miami's South Beach
is proof positive that racial profiling is alive and well in the United States.
The event is billed by some as the largest street party, or urban festival in
the US and some say the world. It's also the site of the most flagrant manifestation
of racial profiling violations of US law.
The number of arrests reported so far this year, are down as
well as the number of attendees. Last year 777 party goers were arrested and in
2006 over a thousand folks were arrested, primarily for petty misdemeanors. The
2006 number was double the number for 2005 which alarmed civil rights and civil
liberty groups. What got their attention was the fact that a significant
percentage of the arrest charges were thrown out before they reached court. The
other thing was the type of arrests. Many young people were taken into custody
for no apparent reason. Many were arrested in sweeps in which police just
grabbed young people and others were arrested because they had the audacity to
ask why their friends were being taken away, when they had done nothing wrong,
or because they didn't move away from the street fast enough. The young people
caught in this snare were charged with resisting arrest. Those who tried to
assert their rights too vociferously were charged with resisting with violence.
Lawlessness on the part of law enforcement has become the
order of the day at these events. Now, to be fair, the new Miami Beach chief of
police, Carlos Noriega, appeared sincere in his assurances that there would be
more professionalism on the part of his force this year. The lower numbers -
just over 300 arrested as of Sunday night - may be a reflection of this. The
numbers may also indicate that Chief Noriega is trying to make good on his
assurances to the ACLU and the NAACP that his cops will behave themselves. But
many of his officers didn't get the message, and neither did and the Miami Dade
County Multi Agency Gang Task Force.
"Police just grabbed young people and others were arrested
because they had the audacity to ask why their friends were being taken away."
Police brutality in Florida is as plentiful as mango trees.
There have been eight police involved deaths since mid November 2007. The most
egregious involved a 19-year-old boy, BG Beaugris, who was killed by Miami Dade
police while walking from a neighborhood Laundromat. Witnesses to his death say
he was executed by a Miami Dade police officer who shot him in the back of the
head as he lay on the ground.
While it is wrong to refer to South Florida as a Banana
Republic within the US, the flirting with the Constitution and the bad taste
sometimes makes one wonder. This is the same area in which people took to the
streets to cheer when then Cuban president Fidel Castro was reportedly near
death. It is the same county that snubbed one of the most moral, principled and
admired freedom fighters of the end of the Twentieth Century, Nelson Mandela.
This is the same community that tried to play politics with the life of eight
year-old Elian Gonzalez, attempting to take him away from his Cuban father. It
is the same community that attempted to ban a children's book on Cuba, Vive
la Cuba from elementary school libraries. And police mistreatment of the
Black community has been so outrageous that it sparked riots in 1980 and 1989.
The way that area police agencies operate during Urban
Beach Week, one would that constitutional guarantees against unreasonable
search and seizure didn't exist.
Police and city officials constantly harp about the fact
that young people coming to their city have to obey the law, however these same
folks openly flaunt their power and deprive partygoers of their constitutional
rights. They also imply that aggressive tactics are a necessity, yet officers
from Miami Dade who serve as traffic cops during the event give directions, are
patient and even courteous, in direct contrast to their fellows from other
jurisdiction who make up the task force.
"This is the same area
in which people took to the streets to cheer when then Cuban president Fidel
Castro was reportedly near death."
Police in the multi agency gang task force conduct what have
come to be known nationally as stop and frisks. Observers witnessed police
walking into crowds, grabbing one or several young people, forcing them to
empty their pockets, then handcuffing them while sometimes cursing and shouting
orders and threatening physical harm. It's a real show. Police often released
the young people, many of whom seem deeply traumatized by the event. It happens
every year, as NAACP observers and ACLU can attest.
Police harassment knows no boundaries. While serving as an
NAACP observer along with King Downing of the national ACLU, I was harassed by
the police. During Urban Beach Week, the only rights one has, are the ones
granted by the police.
The weekend poses a dilemma for some of the local black
leadership, who fought for the right to use all public facilities but find
Black people are abused when availing themselves of these rights. Should Black
elders urge a boycott of Urban Beach Week?
Incidentally, representatives of the city of Miami Beach
went out of their way to inform the public that Urban Beach Week is not an
officially sanctioned festival/event. In other words, despite the fact that the
young people fill the Miami Beach hotels to capacity during a season that is
usually slow and rental agencies, retailers and restaurants make a bundle,
Blacks still aren't welcome. Which of course, may partially explain the
If anyone has any doubts about why the United
Nations is conducting a study about racism in the U.S, or if you believe
Senator Barack Obama's contention that there is no black America but "only the
United States of America," a few nights in Miami will put that fantasy to rest.
Mel Reeves is an activist living in Miami. He
can be contacted at [email protected].