Letters to the Editor

From the issue of June 28, 2001

 An Informed Public Is an Empowered Public

Free weekly cheerfully does its part: Two fine articles in the June 14 edition of New Times prove once again that your paper plays an important role in informing the public. Jacob Bernstein's article on outgoing ACLU president John de Leon ("It Takes a Cuban") and the column by Jim DeFede about Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver ("Shadow Dwellers") are prime examples of well-written, thoughtful delineations of important issues in South Florida. Congratulations.

Rosemary Rappaport

Commissar Katy and Her Little Weasel of a Henchman

You vill absolutely do as vee say or else! Jim DeFede's "Shadow Dwellers" makes it obvious that no opposition will be tolerated to the stand taken by Mr. DeFede and Commissioner Katy Sorenson regarding Homestead Air Force Base. The commissioner has spoken! She knows what is best! This attitude carries with it the sound of jackboots. New Times is becoming a one-issue paper: Destroy Steve Shiver.

As for Mr. DeFede, as Alexander Pope put it: "All seems infected that the infected spy, as all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye." Is Mr. DeFede a lying little weasel? Absolutely, absolutely.

Benedicta M. Harris

South Beach Manifesto: We Just Share Space Over Here

SoBe as melting pot? I don't think so: Tristram Korten's article "South Beach as Thug Central" (June 7) inspired me to write this letter to present a somewhat different perspective. Over the Memorial Day weekend Miami Beach hosted Urban Fashion Week and parties promoted by top hip-hop and rap performers. Young people, both black and white, congregated on South Beach for what promised to be a great weekend, in spite of the weather. The majority of people were just here relaxing, shopping, eating, having a good time, and bringing tremendous revenue to the city. Unfortunately all the publicity was negative and only concerned the violent incidents that occurred.

As a New Yorker recently relocated to Miami Beach, let me say that I am no stranger to street violence, demonstrations, riots, civil disturbances of all kinds, and cops in riot gear. I've seen army tanks on the street (in lower Manhattan, trying to evict building squatters) and helicopters swooping down on a crowd (at the Million Youth March in Harlem in 1998). My take on crowd control is that the control varies with the color of the crowd.

No one in any community condones or supports drive-by shootings, stabbings, or lawless and violent behavior. That is obvious. But consider for a moment what happened Memorial Day weekend in the context of the history of South Beach. Consider whether the reaction would have been the same if the crowd had been predominantly white and favored a different kind of music.

According to my limited knowledge of the area, blacks at one time were not even allowed to visit Miami Beach. Ultimately they were permitted to visit for two limited purposes, both of them to serve the white community in some way: either to clean their houses or to entertain them. Blacks were required to carry ID cards while here. So why would black people want to come here now? For tourists it's the same reason as anyone else: to enjoy the weather, the sea, to shop, relax, go out and have a good time.

The bottom line is money. Events are promoted here as a way to bring in revenue. The planners and merchants on South Beach know that, per person, the black community spends more money than any other community regardless of income level. That translates into a lot of money for the hotels, restaurants, shops, and clubs. The comments made by some business people after the weekend were fundamentally racist in nature, accusing the crowd of being part of a culture of violence. But no one hesitated to take their money, did they? If the business community only wants to take money from white or European people because they think they behave better, then so be it. But they can't have it both ways.

Or was it just that the weekend fulfilled every white person's worst fears and stereotypes about black youth? Yes, the crowd was loud and rowdy, and the violence was inexcusable. But for the most part people were here just having a good time, and they were justifiably disappointed when they were turned away from parties they had planned to attend. Because they're black, however, they are judged more harshly. If the crowd had been white, the New Times article would not have used the phrase "thug central."

Contrary to the claims made in the article, hip-hop is not a "big black phenomenon." If Tris Korten had been paying attention, he would have noticed that white kids, particularly suburban kids, follow hip-hop performers in droves. The popularity of rap and hip-hop as music and forms of communication crossed color lines a long time ago. In addition the characterization of the Memorial Day crowd as "black culture at its most assertive" is oversimplified and patronizing. There is no monolithic black culture any more than there is a monolithic white culture in this country.

The meeting of the city's planning board following the weekend were hardly "racially coded," as the article stated. The board members said very directly that they want to make the city more "selective in events." To me that says they didn't mind making money from the black folks while they were here, but they don't want them coming back.

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