News: Urban Beach Weekend, Good or Bad?

By John E. Zur

In response to the shocking incident resulting in the shooting of 22-year old Raymond Herisse, by police officers, early Monday morning on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach, many believe that ‘Urban Beach Weekend’ has broken its final straw. Locals are speaking out as City officials scramble for answers and solutions to ease the perception that the unorganized event has brought unnecessary violence to the City since unofficially forming over Memorial Day weekend 2001.

Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower’s office was contacted seeking a statement on the City’s plan of action for future Memorial Day weekends, however she was unavailable for comment. The biggest challenge the City has is putting an end to – or restrictions on – an event that was never formally organized in the first place.

In the words of local club promoter, Louie Knuckles, the event that has been coined ‘Urban Beach Weekend’ is simply “a bunch of people who decide to go to the same place at the same time.” Knuckles asks, “Where did that name come from? It’s just Memorial Day weekend.”

Louie Knuckles, a Miamian who has been a part of the club scene since the inception of Urban Beach Weekend, said he was at Pink Room on Friday night and Treehouse on Saturday night and that both nights went well with no problems that he could report, although the clubs were “chaotic” inside. “Most of the violence doesn’t happen in the clubs. It happens well into the night,” said Knuckles.

Knuckles’ opinion is, “Whenever you have a bunch of different people, from different places, in one location there’s always going to be disagreements. It (violence) happens anywhere… anywhere there’s a group of people there’s going to be violence.”

The police department was sought for comment regarding clarification on the police officers’ actions in the incident resulting in Herisse’s death, however phone and emails went unreturned. Among the answers sought is whether the police exercised racial profiling and/or excessive force in their handling of the situation.

Originally, reports stated that no gun was retrieved from Herisse’s vehicle after the shooting. However, a press release distributed on June 1st says otherwise. The news release reads “On June 1, 2011, MBPD Detectives processed the 2006 4d Blue Hyundai with a Palm Beach registration, with decedent, Raymond Herise, was driving on the morning on May 30, 2011. Inside the vehicle Detectives located a black Berretta 92 F semi automatic pistol.” The revelation will no doubt lead to additional speculation surrounding police actions.

“I think there’s an over-aggressive attitude,” says Knuckles, “but there needs to be. It’s a necessary evil. They (the police) have a job to do… Violence doesn’t just happen. There’s always a build-up. And it doesn’t come from just having a few beers and hitting the streets. When you add harassment from the cops… that’s it. It takes off from there.” However, Knuckles does rationalize, “at the end of the day, they’re just doing their job.”

The City of Miami Beach spends about one million dollars in labor costs for Memorial Day weekend, according to Nannette Rodriguez, Public Information Officer. City staffing, including police officers, are based on a survey of the occupancy percentages of hotels from South Beach to North Beach. This year’s average occupancy, of the twenty-six hotels surveyed, was 93% compared to last year’s survey of the same hotels, which came in at 84%. According to Rodriguez, the City has a close relationship with several clubs, hotels, and event managers throughout the City in order to staff properly. When asked if Urban Beach Weekend is given any special consideration to, as far as staffing of police goes, Rodriguez replied, “It’s Memorial Day weekend as far as we’re concerned.” She added that the City “expects thousands, just like Art Basel, Super Bowl, and Winter Music Conference.” As far as the economic benefit to the City, Rodriguez says that it is “difficult to gauge the economic impact.”

The City’s excitement over the numbers might be the biggest reason they have allowed Urban Beach Weekend to attract hundreds of thousands to Miami Beach annually, despite hundreds of arrests, public displays of urination and other forms of lewd conduct, and shootings.

The community has already begun speaking out. As of Wednesday evening, a Facebook group named “END: Memorial/Urban Weekend in Miami Beach” has grown to over 2,500 members. Comments, stories, and active dialogue is taking place by the minute as people weigh in on topics ranging from the weekend’s instances of racism to sexism to violence.

Rebecca Wakefield, Chief of Staff, Office of the Mayor, offered her opinion on whether or not Urban Beach Weekend is good or bad for the City, saying, “It’s obviously both good and bad, depending on what you’re looking at or who you’re talking to. Some businesses do very well. Others shut down completely. A lot of residents feel besieged by the crowds and they resent it. But then again, there are plenty of residents who don’t like some of the other big event weekends throughout the year.”

Miami Beach mayoral candidate Dave Crystal offered his solution.Firstly, in my press release yesterday I called upon the organizers to host at least half of their events on the Miami side of the bay, so to relieve the massive congestion of people in just a 6 block radius. Secondly, we should employ more sobriety stops and lawful drug searches both to arrest would-be criminals before they commit their more heinous crimes and to send a clear message to the events’ organizers and participants that they are our guests and we will be watching them closely to make sure they don’t break the furniture. Thirdly, we can preempt them by returning Memorial Day weekend to its rightful place in our society, and that is honoring our fallen soldiers. We can do this by making Memorial Day weekend in Miami Beach “Honor the Troops” weekend in which we specifically invite current and retired military personnel to come to our community and take part in meaningful and exciting events specifically designed to honor our troops. We will invite our heroes early in the season so that they book our hotel rooms before the thugs do.”

Urban Beach Weekend isn’t an organized event. The City doesn’t issue permits for it. There is no single entity organizing events or locations. There is no media sponsorship. The name isn’t branded. It’s just a bunch of people getting together. And if the “thugs” book the rooms before the veterans, then we just might have one interesting Urban Beach Honor the Troops Weekend 2012.

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