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Armored Police Riot Squads Will Now Patrol Miami Beach Spring Break Crowds

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Tension between South Beach spring breakers and older, whiter, richer, and stodgier residents has been leading up to this moment for years.

But yesterday's revelation was still shocking. Miami Beach officials announced that for the rest of spring break, 25-member teams of police in riot gear will patrol Ocean Drive and the beaches. And the city will park police vans, ATVs, and barricades on the beach to chuck noncompliant visitors into paddy wagons and cart them off to jail.

After an emergency commission meeting yesterday, police spokesperson Ernesto Rodriguez confirmed roving bands of cops will be "wearing protective gear, helmets, and will be equipped with shields." He added police vans will be parked "on the sand" to rapidly detain misbehaving revelers. The news was disclosed midway through a Miami Herald article about spring break.

Commissioners discussed the measure after numerous videos surfaced on social media showing raucous crowds, stumbling-drunk teens and 20-somethings, and a whole lot of violence. In one viral clip, a crowd gathered around a man and woman fighting each other; the man appeared to punch the woman clean across her jaw.  A new Instagram account, @wildmyami_, seems to have been created just to document the fights and general debauchery:

At least one incident ended in tragedy. Just before 5 a.m. Sunday, March 17, 23-year-old Chicago resident Mariah Michelle Logan attempted to hang from the window of a moving car on the highway. She fell and was killed by a hit-and-run driver.

“This is going to be challenging work, and at times it may not be pretty, but I’ve assured senior command staff, I’ve even spoken to our union president, that I, the administration, stands behind our officers to do everything they need to do to take control of the beach,” City Manager Jimmy Morales said yesterday during the emergency meeting. Miami Beach PD has reportedly deployed 100 additional officers already this year to patrol spring break crowds. Morales complained South Beach has somehow morphed into what he called a "promoted party scene."

That's strange. The area has been known as a world debauchery mecca since the '70s.

But the city for years has been moving toward a major police crackdown. There have been more patrols and location-tracking devices and even outright anti-tourism campaigns. In some cases, city officials have been accused of racism. In 2017, the city tried to shut down Urban Beach Week, a weeklong party for black tourists and residents, after local (white) property and business owners complained about the loud parties near Ocean Drive. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People criticized city officials. The NAACP also spoke out after Miami Beach tried to ban excessively loud cars, a rule the NAACP warned would likely be used to disproportionately crack down on people of color during Urban Beach Week.

Beach PD has also ramped up its surveillance of citizens during major events. For the past few years, the city has used license-plate readers — a controversial device that allows cops to rapidly scan every incoming car to check for arrest warrants and track wanted people's movements. During major events, the city checks every car entering or exiting the island over a causeway. Because the scanning requires causeways to be pared to a single lane in each direction, Beach residents have complained of massive traffic backups.

During the meeting yesterday, officials said the backups persisted even after the city stopped using the plate readers.

The city also launched an anti-tourism campaign. The ads, which cost taxpayers $33,000, warned college kids: "Come on vacation, don't leave on probation." The city also said it would rat out any underage college kid caught drinking to that student's college. But officials retreated after critics said the plan went too far.

The police crackdown represents yet another turn in Miami Beach's sometimes racist war against its reputation as a party town. City residents for years used coded language to disguise their general distaste for large crowds of black and brown partygoers. Though there certainly were some fights over the weekend, it's difficult to disentangle complaints from the fact that many of the people appearing in those videos were of color. Throughout yesterday's meeting, city officials and residents repeatedly complained about "losing control" of the city.

"We've dealt with this on Memorial Day weekends," City Manager Morales said. "We know what we can do."

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