After another year of fear-mongering news reports and an overwhelming police presence at Memorial Day festivities in South Beach, the worst gun-related incident of the weekend came after a false rumor of gunfire. A brief panic erupted around 8:15 last night near Ocean Drive, sparking a minor stampede that left one person injured.
But when police rushed to the scene to investigate, they couldn't find any evidence that anyone had fired a weapon.
"We had someone call saying they heard gunshots," says Officer Ernesto Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the department. "Once officers arrived, they found there was a small stampede, but there were no victims of gunshots or any sign of gunfire."
Rain put a major damper on partying at this year's festival, which draws tens of thousands of black tourists annually to South Beach — and which has drawn a heavy response from local police departments that critics such as the ACLU and the NAACP say is driven by racism and leads to unfair arrests.
Overall, this year's Memorial Day weekend was far quieter than last year's, when two men ended up dead — including one shot by police — after a fight over a parking space turned violent.
The Miami Beach Police Department has yet to release a full tally of arrests from the weekend. Through Monday morning, MBPD had made 111 arrests, including 27 felonies, ten of which were for drugs. Depending upon Monday's figures, that's roughly on par with last year's totals and significantly less than in some years past.
One violent incident did mar the weekend: A tourist was critically injured in a hit-and-run crash near 20th Street and Liberty Avenue around 4 a.m. Saturday. Police are looking for a blue Hyundai but don't have any updates in that case this morning, Rodriguez says. The victim remains in critical condition.
Also Sunday night, a homeless man stole an unmarked police cruiser, careened into a few parked cars, crashed, and then ran away. No one was hurt in that incident.
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Local officials are quick to credit this year's relatively quiet weekend with the huge police presence and tactics such as license-plate readers, which scanned virtually every vehicle visiting the island all weekend to search for drivers with outstanding warrants. Those devices have drawn blowback from civil rights advocates, who say gathering so much intel on the public is troubling, especially when the company collecting the data routinely shares its information with federal immigration officials.
But Rodriguez says several guns were confiscated as a result of the plate scanners. And former Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco — fresh off his court-ordered probation after pleading no contest to illegal campaign donations — says he somehow ended up helping police track down one gun ditched during a police chase:
As for the stampede, video of which was posted by hotel owner Mitch Novick, one person was treated for minor injuries after the rush away from Ocean Drive.