SoBe resident and Peruvian native Pablo Mejia has a plan for this weekend: Stay home and lock the doors. "It's a black day holiday, as far as I'm concerned," he says. "They steal, they destroy tables. It's dangerous."
Mejia told this to Riptide while hanging out in Flamingo Park recently. He doesn't consider himself a racist -- who does? -- but his comments underline the racial tension that's likely to grip the Beach this weekend, when thousands of African American vacationers are expected to descend up the area for dozens of events at clubs and hotels.
Since 2006, when Miami Beach police arrested more than 1,000 people, Memorial Day weekend has been a focal point for conflict. The following year, shortly after 6 a.m. one day, a 24-year-old black man from Miami Gardens shot and killed two men in front of David's Café II.
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"That incident...had nothing to do with the fact that you have a large African-American population that comes here for Memorial Day weekend, " says Carlene Sawyer, president of the Miami chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "I've walked the streets of South Beach at four in the afternoon and four in the morning, and it is a party crowd, but we're talking about young professionals."
Sawyer expects cops to frisk African American party-goers without probable cause. "The question is do you need to use different tactics for these people who come in because they are black?" she says.
Back at Flamingo Park, Mejia isn't alone in his tendency to think racially about the weekend. A black basketball player says he has been racially profiled. "I've been arrested for just walking in the street," says the man, who declined to give his name. "It's like, just because you're black they think you're from Overtown."
His friend David Crawford, who is white and has lived in Miami Beach for 21 years, plans to get out of town. But he says, "Race doesn't have anything to do with it. On February 14 (during the boat show), this place is flooded with boat people. It gets ugly. We don't blame it on boat people. You get too many church people in one place, you have problems."