Riptide was walking by Collins and 14th St. in South Beach yesterday when we encountered a scene that took us right back to our city's Cocaine Cowboys heyday. Two men, wearing woolly black ski masks and army jackets, with police badges dangling from their necks, hunched over another man sitting on the pavement. My first thought- I can't really explain why- was that these were extras for a hip-hop video. You know, who's that guy, Plies?
But then I saw that the dude sitting on the ground- a bummy-looking, twentysomething Hispanic guy- had his hands cuffed behind his back. So I started thinking I was witnessing some big narcotraficante takedown, like they do in Bogota and Sao Paulo, where the cops wear masks so that the cartels don't track them down to take them hostage or exact revenge.
I wasn't the only one standing at a safe distance wondering whether this signalled that Miami was due for another decade of AK fire, murdered judges, and white tigers on leashes. The masked cops and their shackled buddy were outside of a motel, and by now, a shocked crowd had gathered in the lobby, wide-eyed and whispering, some with cameras in hands but too scared to snap a photo.
Another man, this one not wearing a ski mask, showed up and began talking quietly to the masked cops. Riptide called aside this new guy and asked him what in the name of Pablo Escobar was up with the masks- and was given a dissapointingly mundane explanation.
"They're cops that always do undercover work in South Beach," said the guy, a detective who refused to give a name. "They just don't want to be known around the neighborhood."
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Apparently they had thrown on the masks immediately after cuffing the guy. As for the camouflage jackets, I'm guessing both cops happened to choose the same Regular Bummy Dude disguise for this occasion (don't you hate that?). And the perp on the ground pretty much confirmed that he wasn't any kingpin with his incessantly muttered protests to the cops: "Yo, cummon, I aint gonna go down for something I didn't do. I don't even smoke, I'm telling you!"
The unmasked detective wouldn't give Riptide any more details, except to say, "It's not a big bust."
So the next time you see a scene out of Traffic as you walk out of Benetton, don't let it put you off your gelato. One personal bonus of watching this whole scene unfold: as the foursome waited for the paddy wagon, one of the cops lifted his mask to talk on an iPhone, and I got a good look at his face. Now I know one guy not to buy crack from.