On March 21, Miami Beach city commissioners held an emergency meeting to discuss the large, sometimes unruly spring break crowds that have led to national headlines in recent weeks. Police Chief Richard Clements said his officers had been overwhelmed by the sheer number of visitors and now worry about their ability to maintain public safety. While the majority of spring breakers seem to be partying peacefully, a few high-profile incidents of stampedes, shootings, and the death of a woman who'd been raped in her hotel have led a vocal faction of residents to demand action.
What kind of action? So far, that's been a question without consensus. Some have called for more policing and near-draconian closures of the beach and nightlife. Others believe the city should invest in programming, spreading spring break visitors across the island at concerts, dance parties, and other organized events.
The fact that many of South Beach's spring breakers are young and Black has added an extra dimension to the conversation. Many critics believe Miami Beach has unfairly policed and cracked down on its Black visitors instead of welcoming their business. The fact that the city has a long history of racism makes those arguments particularly resonant. At the same time, some residents say they fear for their safety, particularly when it comes to the incidents of gun violence during spring break over the past several years.
With city leaders seemingly unable to chart a way forward, New Times posed the question to our readers last week:
What would you do if you were in charge?
Almost 200 of you filled out our Google Form to share your ideas. About 60 percent of respondents identified as Miami Beach residents. About 6 percent said they work in the city, and another 5 percent said they came to Miami Beach on spring break (or planned to). The rest had no skin in the Beach game but offered some thoughts nonetheless.
Some themes arose repeatedly — more programming, capacity limitations, infrastructure fixes, etc.
Others stood out in terms of their creativity.
One self-described "former Miami Beach resident and former club kid" put forth a multistep plan involving bagels and biodegradable glitter:
First and foremost, you need free water stations to help people sober up and stay hydrated... Add free bagels to the mix (I'm sure we have a kosher bagel restaurant that the city can buy in bulk from — great advertising). Next, to tone down the toxic masculinity, we need to lighten the mood — bring out the "temporary tattoo and glitter patrol." Everyone loves temporary tats and glitter makes people surprisingly happy and child-like. There are biodegradable glitter companies — have the city highlight that we are committed to keeping the bay safe.
Next, we use our COVID tracers (or anyone — $15/hour for any unemployed person) to take on the role of "Miami Hosts" to offer directions and encourage people to wear masks. Much less threatening if it's coming from a rando than the police. Lastly, WHY AREN'T WE USING THE NEW WORLD SYMPHONY BIG SCREEN FOR A VERZUZ SCREENING? Contain the crowd with common activities.
Because music is a known mood regulator, another person suggested some — how should we say? — auditory experiments: "Put some speakers out in Lummus Park and play reggae music. If the crowd gets too rowdy, play the sound of a crying baby. Nothing kills a party like a crying baby."
And we have to include an inventive solution from Miami Beach attorney Ramsey Simon, even though it didn't technically come in through our Google Form.
"Seems like all those currently unused @CruiseNorwegian @RoyalCaribbean @CarnivalCruise ships can be set up to host events/parties for all the 'spring breakers' just standing in the streets of @MiamiBeachNews," he tweeted. "Leave the ships docked at port, or anchored off-shore and run 'water taxis' to and from. Parties, DJs, food, events, etc."
Leave the ships docked at port, or anchored off-shore and run "water-taxis" to and from. Parties, DJs, food, events, etc. Provide boarding or don't. Beats a bunch of idiots standing in the streets like fools, only to be shoved away at curfew to do it somewhere else. 2/— Ramsey Simon (@rksimonlaw) March 26, 2021
In no particular order, here's a handful of other ideas you had, which we've loosely grouped by category. If you think some of them seem unreasonable or tongue-in-cheek, rest assured that we did too — though not necessarily about the same ones. (You know what they say about opinions.) [Editor's note: Some responses have been edited for length and clarity, but not for potential tongue-in-cheek humor.]
Put together programming
- First, Miami Beach leaders need to recognize and admit the city's history with racial profiling and racism. Once the city does that, it should create programming all over Miami Beach to spread the crowds around. This way there are fewer opportunities for large masses to congregate in specific areas. The city should also partner with local arts and civic organizations as well as Black leaders and party promoters to attract a diverse cross-section of the Black community to travel here during these high-demand times. There should be something sponsored by the city for everyone, from the foodie to the art collector to the person looking for cheap booze and a good time.
- People want to be where the action is, so our leaders should take initiative to spread the "action" across a larger area so that huge crowds don’t have to mass on Ocean Drive in self-directed concerts/dance parties. We have large events all the time that are spread out across Miami Beach and Miami, like Art Basel. Why are we unwilling to provide events that would appeal to our young Black visitors? The city could take the millions of dollars they are spending on turning the Beach into a police state and actually provide a solution that works for residents and visitors alike.
- Immediately do some event programming. Open the empty convention center to an event. Hire DJs. Hire rappers. The crowd needs to be dispersed to various venues, not just sit on Ocean Drive.
- Embracing the current crowd demographics by city-organized programming of "positive" artists/role models in dedicated areas of the beach (even think of organizing dance, i.e. "twerking," competitions at specific locations, versus in traffic as current.
- Next year, Winter Party is first weekend of March and Ultra is last weekend. City should do all it can to book large conventions for second and third weekends of March. Hotels full at top rates. This way the whole month is covered.
Price out the spring breakers
- Hotel prices should be raised. Plenty of hotels do this during Art Basel and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, so why not during spring break and Memorial Day? Keep it fair for everyone. I don't want people to be cut out, that's not right by any view, but you have to accept that a problem exists and be realistic with the solutions.
- Raise the fee/taxes on hotels for anyone under 25, just like rental-car companies do.
- This is a free-market commerce issue, not a government regulation for which the public and business community look to Big Brother as a babysitter. Rather than passively accepting Airbnb and cheap hotel competition where no one knows who's in our city, our billionaire hotel groups should unite to finance events and marketing that book their rooms months ahead of time at top dollar and balance out the attraction to clientele who can afford quality, safe vacations.
- Tolls should be installed during spring break at $100 or more per car. When you leave, you have to pay to return.
Make it a block party
- Charge nonresidents and non-hotel guests a $20 cover charge to get into the area after 8 p.m. Pick a number of tickets that keeps the crowds manageable. Use the cover charge to defray the cost of the police, or donate it to bars and restaurants.
- Consider spring break a fair-type event. Close off the entertainment district and sell a limited number of tickets for access. Redirect police enforcement to the gates, then allow the spring breakers to have reasonable, nonviolent, nondestructive fun!
- Treat spring break like Mardi Gras: Provide bathrooms, street-food vendors, and parties with stages (similar to how Lincoln Road approaches Halloween).
- Have metal detectors set up and possibly even charge a fee to enter this area; once fee is paid, wristbands are provided (color changed daily).
Shut it down
- The whole South Beach area from First to 15th from east to west should be totally closed except to residents and workers.
- Ban all alcohol sales after 8 p.m. Miami Beach used to be what Key Biscayne is today. Let all of the clubs and bars move to Wynwood.
- Close the beaches.
- Close down bars entirely.
Let them party
- Drop the curfew, open everything, step back, and let the young people have fun. Unblock the streets and let the Ubers get through. Let the money flow through all the businesses. STOP FEARMONGERING.
- Reinforce social distancing and mandate the mask policy, but let the breakers enjoy themselves unless there's a problem (then bring in the police to control the situation).
- Open all the nightclubs and end the curfew so people aren't drinking on the street! Give the alcoholics a confined place to go and party and let the businesses who know how to deal with drunk a**holes deal with them.
- Just try and control the crowds better and let the people who just came to have fun, do that: have fun.
Adjust policing tactics
- Use of violent police force such as pepper balls and rubber bullets, kettling, and sound cannons against any nonviolent activity is morally indefensible. City leaders should resoundingly call on tourists to go home and stay away, enact an earlier curfew, and make use of any available legal authorities to shut down establishments and public spaces contributing to big crowds and unruly behavior to make it as unappealing as possible to stay in Miami Beach.
- Strict enforcement of anti-weapon (guns, other) policy — perhaps even offering financial rewards for reporting of any observed drugs/weapons, etc.
- Mass arrests/incarceration. These people are breaking the law, many violently, plain and simple. Doesn't matter what color their skin is. The rules apply to them too.
- Hire the Hells Angels to police SoBe.
- Enforcing the law the right way and not using the Black people as an example and treating them like animals! Stop only showing crimes committed by Black people to justify your agenda. There are also a lot of crimes committed on Miami Beach by non-Blacks that are not shown.
Fix the infrastructure
- Open Ocean Drive to traffic. Closing it off for pedestrians encouraged this gathering/mess.
- Define a narrow route for nonresident vehicles to travel through Miami Beach during specific days/times, but one that keeps traffic moving at all times (similar to the airport — no stopping allowed).
- Create a rapid busway across the causeway with free westbound service and ban nonresident/contractor/employee vehicles, or prevent non-prepaid vehicles from parking on Miami Beach and raise parking rates. Pursue federal infrastructure funds for a light-rail/monorail connection for which a rapid busway builds ridership. We need our local visitors like those from afar to come to our sandbar by public transit and leave vehicles at transit stops on the mainland or take advantage of a no-transfer ride from airport, port, Amtrak and from Wynwood, Liberty City, etc., without needing to detour via downtown Miami. Transit equity and environmental justice can and must be compatible with long-distance tourism.
Create capacity limitations
- Limit the number of people entering. Essence of crowd control starts with throttling the number.
- Hotel-room inspection checking room capacity (paid for by hotels), with high fines for violations. Similar inspections for any Airbnb properties.
- If the Miami Beach Police Department can post up on the causeways and cause four-hour delays to check for narcotics in inbound vehicles, they can also have a ticketing system. If they don't want overcrowding, they should have a capacity limit and request people register via an online ticketing system with QR codes. It doesn't even need to cost money.
- Arrest anyone congregating in groups larger than four.
- Simply put, there are too many people gathering in large parties. Leaders need to set a limit for how many people can congregate (must not exceed fire-marshal limits for restaurants, bars, and clubs), and parties in the street need to be broken up immediately before they become too big.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.