Overwhelmed by Spring Break, Miami Beach extends an emergency curfew.
The city has been chastised for using pepper balls to disperse crowds in South Beach over the weekend in order to enforce the curfew.
Officials in Miami Beach voted on Sunday to extend an emergency curfew for up to three weeks, one day after the spring break paradise of South Beach plunged into chaos, with police struggling to manage overwhelming crowds and make dozens of arrests.
Officials there even agreed closing Ocean Drive to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. — the curfew hours — for four nights a week through April 12. The closure does not affect residents, hotel guests, or employees of local businesses.
The strip, which is frequented by celebrities and visitors alike, was the site of a highly publicized brawl on Saturday night between often rowdy revelers who disobeyed social-distancing and mask rules aimed at preventing the coronavirus from spreading, and police officers who used pepper balls to disperse a large crowd just hours after the curfew was implemented.
The restrictions were a startling acknowledgment of the city’s inability to manage unruly crowds of revelers, whom the city and the state of Florida have actively courted in the aftermath of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, David Richardson, a member of the Miami Beach City Commission, said, “I believe it’s a lot of pent-up demand from the pandemic and people trying to get out.” “And our state has been marketed as being open to the public, so that adds to the problem.”
The commission agreed in an emergency meeting to extend the curfew in the city’s South Beach entertainment district from Thursday to Sunday for another three weeks, which is when spring break usually ends. On the nights of the curfew, officials also held bridge closures in place along many causeways that link Miami Beach to the mainland.
The city’s decision to send riot police into the entertainment district on Saturday, just hours after the curfew was declared, was widely panned, especially by local Black leaders. Many of the revelers scattered by the police were young African-Americans, they said.
“It’s the same group of kids that are on South Padre Island right now, except those kids are white,” said Stephen Hunter Johnson, chairman of Miami-Black Dade’s Affairs Advisory Board, referring to the iconic Texas spring break destination.
Mr. Johnson reported that the city had done a bad job of introducing and enforcing the curfew.
“Vacation is the lifeblood of this economy,” he said. “However, when you have kids who think they are being overpoliced or policed differently in a post-George Floyd setting, where we don’t shy away from it but tackle it head-on, it leads to circumstances where officers understandably feel they are being placed in an unjust situation.”
Since Friday, Miami Beach Police said they had made over 50 arrests and recovered eight weapons, according to a statement released Sunday night.
Businesses on the beachfront stretch, known for its Art Deco hotels, were closing their doors and calling it a night shortly after sunset on Sunday, a time when Ocean Drive is normally swarming with revelers.
Hundreds of people remained in the streets as police officers started their sweep to clear the district, despite the fact that the crowds were not as big as they had been on Saturday night. The ruckus from recent nights in South Beach seemed to have died down.
A group of visitors who had flown in from Chicago and Memphis for a long weekend of partying sipped beer while watching a staff member from their hotel, Winter Haven, use yellow caution tape to cordon off the patio.
Ryan Ferchaud, a 37-year-old tourist from Memphis, was one of them, accusing groups of college students for their “no-holds-barred” stance toward the chaos.
She said, “It’s never been this bad.” “So what about war and things like that?” It’s just a totally different experience.”
Cierra Booker, 31, a member of the party, gave an honest evaluation of the situation.
“Man, I think the restaurants need to be open,” she said. “We are unable to feed. You must understand that we are in Miami for spring break. Nobody is attempting to feed throughout the day. We’re attempting to have a nice time.”
A formation of Miami Beach police cars and officers in all-terrain vehicles cruised north on Ocean Drive a few moments later, trying to clear the streets. As a prerecorded announcement blared from loudspeakers, they blasted eardrum-piercing sound cannons.
The post, which was looping, said, “The city of Miami Beach is under a state of emergency.” “From 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., there is a curfew in place. You have been ordered to disperse immediately and peacefully.”
The curfew was originally imposed for 72 hours on Saturday. City leaders overwhelmingly voted on Sunday to extend the emergency declaration until Monday, with the city manager having the authority to extend it week by week.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis boasted about his state’s lack of pandemic constraints in contrast to other Democratic-controlled areas of the country. Mr. DeSantis recently said, “If you look at South Florida right now, this place is booming.” “The economy in Los Angeles isn’t booming. The economy in New York City isn’t booming.”
More than 32,000 Floridians have died as a result of the virus in Miami-Dade County, which includes Miami Beach, in one of the country’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, an unprecedented expense that the state’s leaders barely recognize. The state is also believed to have the highest concentration of B.1.1.7, a more infectious and potentially lethal virus strain that was first discovered in the United Kingdom.
Some attributed the unexpectedly large crowds to a spring break season fueled by a pandemic that prevented people from socializing. Mr. Richardson, the city commissioner, said that the situation in Miami Beach was “far greater than spring break, and that is why we are seeing such big crowds.”
“Shutting it down cannot be the way the city does business,” said Ricky Arriola, another city commissioner, at the emergency meeting. It’s humiliating, and it just proves that we have no idea what we’re doing.”
Mr. Arriola also proposed that the city begin preparing for its next peak season. “We were caught off guard this spring break, and we’re going to step straight into Memorial Day weekend’s punch.”
Businesses in Fort Lauderdale, about 30 miles north, are keeping an eye on what’s going on in Miami Beach. On Sunday evening, Dan Lindblade, president and chief executive of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, said, “We’ve been watching it really closely.” “We’ll do whatever we can to prevent a repeat of the situation up here,” says the party.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Fort Lauderdale had similar spring break issues before the city and companies agreed to make some improvements, he said. One important change was that hotels began charging higher prices for rooms. Mr. Lindblade explained, “We’re not catering to an under-$150-a-night crowd,” adding, “We’re $300 to $500 a night, and that’s just a different crowd.”
Mr. Lindblade said that the impact has been noticeable. He said, “It’s a family-oriented atmosphere, and that’s been perfect for our economy.”
On Sunday night in South Beach, two maskless men in their 20s, sporting board shorts and holding hard seltzers, took turns snorting white lines from a postcard, apparently unfazed by the presence of officers. A group of police officers stood quietly around the corner, conversing with one another and calling for people to return home.
A man sipped from an almost empty bottle of cognac and grinned at the officers as he was part of a maskless throng of people heading toward Ocean Drive.
He pointed into the distance and said, “I’m throwing it away.” “Today is my birthday.”
One of the officers warned, “Hurry up, man,” about a nearby police detail.
As the party advanced toward the now-closed doors, the officers remained in position and continued their discussion.