NAACP: Miami Beach's "Loud Car" Crackdown on Memorial Day Targets Black People
Photo by George Martinez

NAACP: Miami Beach's "Loud Car" Crackdown on Memorial Day Targets Black People

Miami Beach is loud 365 days of the year, and 366 days when it's a leap year. Pitbull sits atop an entire subgenre of pop-rap dedicated to singing about how, at its core, club-filled, liquor-fueled, sleep-deprived Miami Beach is an extremely loud place to be.

Despite this obvious fact, Beach residents get extremely upset about the noise during one particular weekend: the one leading up to Memorial Day, AKA Urban Beach Week, AKA the one celebration all year pitched as a celebration for black residents and tourists.

The latest harebrained scheme to control the alleged "plague of lawlessness" on Memorial Day is to dispatch a zillion cops to ticket visitors for blasting their car stereos "too loud" — and the Miami-Dade chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is warning in an open letter that the plan will almost certainly lead to the disproportionate ticketing and arrest of black people.

"The NAACP is concerned that the City of Miami Beach appears to be promoting an enforcement policy that can lead to more arrests of visitors during Memorial Day Weekend," NAACP Miami-Dade President Ruban Roberts wrote in an open letter the Miami Herald first reported on last night.

The NAACP's concerns aren't a surprise to anyone familiar with Miami Beach politics. No single event rouses the fury of the city's older, mostly white and Hispanic class of wealthy real-estate investors quite like Urban Beach Week. In years past during that weekend, the city has drastically increased its police presence, banned basic items such as speakers and coolers from the beach, and even begun using controversial devices such as license-plate readers to track visitors' movements. In 2016, critics also claimed the city had scheduled an air show on Memorial Day weekend in order to push Urban Beach Week partiers away.

"As you may be aware, there is already a strong feeling in Miami-Dade’s African-American community that Black visitors to Miami Beach are held to a tougher standard and treated more harshly than others," the NAACP wrote this week. "The implementation of specialized and unique law enforcement rules for this particular holiday weekend supports the belief that the City of Miami Beach is hostile and unwelcoming to African-American visitors. Moreover, an arrest can have longtime negative impacts on an individual no matter how minor the offense."

City spokesperson Melissa Berthier says the new noise ordinances weren't meant to directly target Memorial Day in and of itself — the city says the plan was designed to cut down on Spring Break parties in general. Berther said the noise crackdown will continue after Urban Beach Week subsides. But the NAACP says in its letter that the organization is concerned the city policy will disproportionately impact black visitors.

To be fair, there was a fatal shooting during last year's festivities. But the event then led to some over-the-top discourse culminating in then-city-commissioner-turned-campaign-finance-violator Michael Grieco calling for Urban Beach Week to be killed. Grieco also argued with the NAACP during a public meeting and warned that black residents were planning on "taking over the beach." (Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez also sent an email to City Manager Jimmy Morales urging him to "give the cops back their bullets" and get rid of policy body cameras before also telling New Times the city was besieged by "thugs on the streets." She later apologized.)

After the NAACP and other civil rights organizations complained that no other yearly event faces constant criticism like Memorial Day weekend, then-Mayor Philip Levine set up a "blue ribbon committee" to create solutions for the 2018 celebrations, which begin in less than three weeks.

But as the Herald noted, one of the new ideas in place for the 2018 edition is ticketing and arresting people who play their car stereos too loud.

"We're going to afford violators in fairness one warning," Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates told the city commission last month, per the Herald. "After that, they will be arrested and taken to jail."

That's essentially code, critics say, for allowing MBPD to throw celebrating black visitors in jail. The NAACP asks the city, Mayor Dan Gelber, and Chief Oates to prioritize "lowering noise" by using measurable standards (as opposed to random cop discretion) instead of simply arresting people. The NAACP wrote that people should be given at least two verbal warnings before cops issue a written citationand not a trip to jail.

"MBPD will be enforcing Miami-Dade County Ordinance SEC. 21-28, which cites unreasonably loud, excessive, unnecessary, or unusual noise," the NAACP's letter reads. "Violation of this ordinance, if not promptly remedied, may result in an arrest. The 'may result in an arrest' is what we take issue with. Our position is that that arrest should be reserved for actual crimes and violations. While we respect your need to address your constituents’ concern with quality of life issues, we strongly request that you also adhere to NAACP’s precept — to ensure that the civil rights of Black, Brown, as well as all other visitors, are respected as well."

Here's the full letter:

Dear Mayor Gelber, City Manager, and City of Miami Beach Commissioners:

First, I would like to thank you for your commitment to making Memorial Day Weekend a welcoming event for the traditionally African-American visitors, as well as all other groups, who choose to visit Miami Beach that weekend. As you well know, the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP has been working with other organizations and with the City itself for years to achieve fair and equitable treatment of all visitors to Miami Beach that weekend so that everyone may enjoy the public accommodations of your City.

We recently held the “Unity in the Community” event to address the relationship between residents of Miami Beach and traditional Memorial Day Weekend visitors. In my opinion, this discussion was successful and a much needed one that should be continued. Residents were candid about their concerns and the panelist provided great perspectives regarding the issues. I must say that during this discussion not one resident stated the need to arrest visitors for quality of life infractions.

This brings me to the point of this letter. Recent actions by the Miami Beach Commission and statements to local media from Chief Oates and Deputy Chief Clements have raised serious concerns. For example, the Miami Herald reported: “’The goal is to increase public safety by continuing to enforce laws,’ said Miami Beach Police Deputy Chief Rick Clements. MBPD will be enforcing Miami-Dade County Ordinance SEC. 21-28, which cites unreasonably loud, excessive, unnecessary, or unusual noise. Violation of this ordinance, if not promptly remedied, may result in an arrest.” The “may result in an arrest” is what we take issue with. Our position is that that arrest should be reserved for actual crimes and violations. While we respect your need to address your constituents’ concern with quality of life issues, we strongly request that you also adhere to NAACP’s precept — to ensure that the civil rights of Black, Brown, as well as all other visitors, are respected as well.

The NAACP is concerned that the City of Miami Beach appears to be promoting an enforcement policy that can lead to more arrests of visitors during Memorial Day Weekend. This initiative runs counter to the efforts that the NAACP and the Miami Beach Memorial Day Blue Ribbon.

Committee have been working so arduously to achieve — to be “Welcoming to All”. We understand that a concern has been expressed about unreasonable noise and that some residents have urged more proactive law enforcement in addressing this particular issue. However, we do not believe the proposed policy of issuing a warning and subsequent arrest is the best way to address this issue. As you know, in light of the history of Miami Beach, large numbers of arrests are not a deterrent. You cannot arrest your concerns away. Indeed, if residents are asking for noise reduction, arrests should not be the metric by which success is measured; a reduced number of complaints should be that measure. Chief Oates instituted enforcement of the new ordinance during the last week of April, but at that time the police gave out only warnings. The outcome of this effort according to Chief Oates and other city officials was successful based on giving warnings alone. The NAACP strongly recommends that you follow the same approach going forward to achieve compliance with the noise ordinance.

As you may be aware, there is already a strong feeling in Miami-Dade’s African-American community that Black visitors to Miami Beach are held to a tougher standard and treated more harshly than others. The implementation of specialized and unique law enforcement rules for this particular holiday weekend, supports the belief that the City of Miami Beach is hostile and unwelcoming to African-American visitors. Moreover, an arrest can have longtime negative impacts on an individual no matter how minor the offense.

Below is a list of our recommendations to address the concerns of all of your constituents — both residents and visitors — who all contribute immensely to the City of Miami Beach’s’ economy.

Our requests are as follows:

We strongly request that you employ an approach of issuing at least two warnings and then citing violators who do not comply with the initial warnings. This approach would benefit both visitors and residents of Miami Beach. We know that you are currently utilizing the Miami Dade County Ordinance SEC. 21-28 which does not allow for citations; therefore, we recommend that you adopt your own City of Miami Beach noise ordinance to address this issue.
We ask that you use measurable standards for determining excess noise, to be applied equally whether outside of a club or outside of a car. Furthermore, the same standards must then be applied on subsequent holiday weekends after Memorial Day Weekend.
We ask that the police use an explanatory approach in their contacts with vehicle occupants, addressing the need to be considerate of others, such as residents, living in the area.
Finally, we request that you set a goal of reduced noise rather than increased arrests. Effective education the first night should reduce noise thereafter.

Ruban Roberts
President of the Miami Dade Branch of the NAACP

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