Over the objection of Mayor Dan Gelber, the commission voted 4-3 against instituting a curfew in Miami Beach from March 23 to March 26 during Ultra Music Festival weekend.
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez claimed the curfew would be too little, too late, given the past weekend is typically Miami Beach's busiest in terms of Spring Break revelry. She recalled how the city imposed a curfew last year during Ultra Music Festival weekend despite signs that the wave of drunken chaos was receding.
"The same thing happened exactly last year. We did not implement what we needed to do leading up to weekend number three, which we know is the worst weekend, and we always have incidents of bloodshed," Rosen Gonzalez said last night at the March 20 special meeting. "And what do we do? We had a knee-jerk reaction... and then we put Ultra weekend, which is not a problematic weekend, under curfew [last year]. That doesn't make any sense."
Rosen Gonzalez along with Commissioners Laura Dominguez, Ricky Arriola, and David Richardson voted against reinstating a curfew this weekend, while Mayor Gelber, Vice Mayor Steven Meiner, and Commissioner Alex Fernandez voted to put one in place.
To no avail, Gelber tried to convince the commission to keep folks off the streets in the late-night hours.
"Obviously, [an] enormous presence of police was not enough to deter the criminal behavior we saw and observed," Gelber said at the meeting. "As a commission, we can't allow our streets to be dangerous in this way."
City manager Alina Hudak still has the power to institute an emergency curfew if conditions deteriorate in the coming days.
The debate came in the wake of a violent Spring Break weekend in which revelers fought and jumped on top of an occupied car in the streets of Miami Beach. The pandemonium took a deadly turn as two people were fatally gunned down in separate incidents on Ocean Drive.
On Friday, March 17, one person died and another was injured in a shooting on Ocean Drive and 7th Street. Cellphone video captured a man lying face down on the road, covered in blood, as gunshots ran out. Bystanders were seen ducking behind tables at a sidewalk cafe, watching as Miami Beach Police officers arrived and performed CPR on the victim.
Then, a little more than 24 hours later, a man was killed execution-style early Sunday morning on 11th Street and Ocean Drive on a densely crowded sidewalk. After the crowd quickly dispersed, the attacker fired off multiple shots at close range as the man was lying wounded on the concrete.
City workers were seen cleaning the blood-stained sidewalk the following morning.
The city manager declared a state of emergency and announced an 11:59 p.m. curfew on Miami Beach on March 19, which expired at 6 a.m. the following morning.
People jumping on top of cars on Ocean Drive🤦♂️| #ONLYinDADE pic.twitter.com/sOBCsfwpxt— ONLY in DADE (@ONLYinDADE) March 20, 2023
Though Miami Beach legislators decided against reinstating the curfew, they voted 6-1 to shut down alcohol sales at South Beach liquor stores early at 6 p.m. this weekend.
Commissioner Richardson pushed the restriction, saying liquor stores in the entertainment district were fueling the disorder.
"I would make a motion that we close the package stores like we did last year, and that's what I would support, in terms of trying to tamp down people buying alcohol in the [district] and pouring it into a bottle of Gatorade and that sort of thing," Richardson said.
Although Fernandez, Meiner, and the mayor felt the amended item was not enough to ensure public safety, they agreed to support the measure.
"This is like acknowledging we have a problem, but we don't want to take bold action because we don't want to piss off important businesses in our city," Fernandez said.
Arriola, the lone vote against the item, compared it to "rearranging the chairs on the Titanic" and voiced his support for stronger measures like metal detectors and more barricades.
"Let's be real. If it's not going to make a difference, don't punish the businesses that are going to be affected by this," he said. "Booze is easy to get... Let's not do something just to do something."
Several commissioners advocated for the city to adopt more stringent safety measures for next year, including installing metal detectors, creating a ticketed event to enter the area, establishing a perimeter, and setting up checkpoints.
"I don't view any other option at this point than doing metal detectors. There is literally zero option," Meiner argued. "We are going through the same thing every year, year after year. We need metal detectors next year. If it's beyond Ocean Drive, we do beyond Ocean Drive."
Arriola said implementing a curfew is not a long-term solution and instead called for safety checks to get guns off the streets. He suggested high-powered spotlights on Ocean Drive to "make it more unpleasant" for revelers, and more license plate readers along with traffic controls to slow the causeway down "to make it less pleasant for people who drive in."
Some legislators even asked to have metal detectors in place for this weekend, but police chief Richard Clements and Hudak said that would be impossible on such short notice. City attorney Rafael Paz also worried about the constitutional implications.
"I actually feel personally responsible for the people that were injured because I feel we need to do more," Meiner said.