Gunfire, Death and Crime Spur Calls For End to Miami Beach's Urban Beach Weekend

Before at least seven people were injured or killed in multiple early-morning shootouts Monday, many were saying Sunday night that the scene at South Beach's Urban Beach Weekend didn't seem as bad as it had in the past.

The long weekend was expected to draw 300,000 visitors to South Beach this year, with clubs hosting popular hip-hop artists like Chris Brown, DJ Kahled and Rick Ross. The crowd has typically been almost exclusively African American, and Sunday night was no exception.

James Wilson, sitting in a camping chair on Collins Avenue, said he has come people-watching at the South Beach Memorial Day festivities for the past five years.

"[Police] used to walk by every 15, 20 minutes looking for people to arrest," Wilson said, adding that police this year seemed to be taking a less confrontational approach in favor of dealing with problems as they arose. But, he said, the party-goers' behavior didn't seem to have changed and "the same crimes are happening."

The weekend has been marked in past years by hundreds of arrests, mostly of black suspects, including more than 1,000 people arrested in the 2006 celebration alone.

But there were certainly crimes happening last night: Marijuana was pervasive and openly smoked on sidewalks, one man was spotted urinating on a Hialeah Police van and employees at a Collins-Street Subway Restaurant said customers had stolen drinks, sandwiches and about a dozen chairs from their store.

The city's volunteer goodwill ambassadors dispatched throughout the area said they were doing what they could to stay in touch with police and help quell crowds, but one ambassador said that with traffic and other concerns, it sometimes took police as long as an hour to respond to calls. Her group of ambassadors had just given up trying to stop a woman from collecting money by stripping on the sidewalk.

​Stripping and dancing in the perpetually congested traffic was also frequent -- in addition to at least one van with transparent sides driving the streets with women dancing on poles inside, women stuck in traffic simply climbed on top of their cars and gyrated for onlookers.

"I guess she got bored," goodwill ambassador Nayheera Richard said of one traffic-dancer. "But that's it. I haven't seen anything out of the ordinary."

But these "ordinary" events, combined with Monday morning's gunfire that left one dead and seven -- including three police officers -- injured, according to the Miami Herald, have left many wondering if this was the final salvo of Urban Beach Weekend.

Some have come out openly calling for the event's demise: In addition to the scores of online commenters bemoaning the troubled weekend's return, Herb Sosa, president of Miami-Dade Hispanic gay-rights group the Unity Coalition, wrote an open letter to Miami Beach administrators calling the city "nothing short of a warzone" and asking "when did perceived political or social correctness override the safety & well-being of a community? ... Make the difficult but correct decision to put an end to Urban Weekend in Miami Beach and help us SAVE OUR CITY. We are not Disney or Universal. We cannot close a gate at night & go home. We ARE home."

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Rich Abdill
Contact: Rich Abdill