Next Year's Miami Beach Air Show a Racist Attempt to Squash Urban Beach Week, Critics Say

Since the early 2000s, Memorial Day Weekend in Miami has been synonymous with Urban Beach Week, the legendary hip-hop festival that inspires nonstop partying across South Beach. But 2016 may go down as the last time festival-goers got to enjoy the beach all by themselves.

Next year, the beats may be drowned out by the roar of airplanes, as South Beach plays host to a large air show over Memorial Day weekend, smack dab in the middle of Urban Beach Week.

“It’s going to be very large,” says Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who was one of three commissioners who voted against the air show last fall. “And very loud and intrusive.”

Commissioners quietly approved the air show by National Salute to American Heroes last December. Commissioner Michael Grieco proposed it as "alternative programming" to Memorial Day events, "where there were 150 arrests during that weekend alone.... [Grieco] believes it is time the residents take back Memorial Day Weekend," according to city records.

John De Leon, a civil rights and plaintiffs’ lawyer and past president of the Greater Miami ACLU, says it's a blatantly racist attempt by the city to suppress the predominantly African-American crowd that normally comes to Miami for Memorial Day weekend.  “A significant number of hotel rooms typically used during Urban Beach Week will be booked in order to deprive African Americans of the opportunity to enjoy their weekend,” De Leon says. “It’s an absolute disgrace.”

The City of Miami Beach did not immediately respond to a New Times request for more information, but city agendas show that Grieco proposed the show, which was narrowly approved by a 4-3 vote last December. Commissioner Joy Malakoff, who opposed the agreement, requested another look this past April. (Documents from this are posted below.) 

The Air Show will be modeled after the Fort Lauderdale Air Show, Rosen Gonzalez says. From May 7 to 9, planes dipped and dove over thousands of people who crowded the beach and sat in boats in the ocean to watch. In Miami Beach, the mornings will be for the “sea portion,” with the afternoons for air displays. Additional entertainment will take place throughout the day. The City has signed a one-year contract.

Rosen Gonzalez refutes that the air show intends to displace Urban Beach Week. 

But she has plenty of other concerns. She says she doesn't think the city has done enough to get resident input about the event. “I don’t think we know what we’re getting into,” Rosen Gonzalez says. “I guarantee there are gonna be complaints.” 

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Jessica Weiss