The city of Miami Beach hoped to bring back the true meaning of Memorial Day weekend but the holiday also competes with an unofficial event that has taken place during the same weekend since the 1990’s -Urban Beach Week.
Urban Beach Week is a hip-hop festival that has been plagued with controversy since its inception.
“We’re trying to change the narrative for this weekend. This is Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day is about honoring the men and women who have given their lives for this country, and so we want to bring that back into the weekend,” said Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales last week.
“In its early years, Urban Beach Week by itself was nearly more than Miami Beach could handle. Most of the island turned into one giant, apocalyptic traffic jam and arrests for stuff like public urination reached astronomical levels — more than 1,000 people were locked up during the weekend in 2006,” the Miami Herald reports.
In 2011, twelve police officers fired over 100 rounds, killing a man after he plowed his vehicle in to several cars and nearly ran over several bicycle police officers. Almost three years later, prosecutors decided that the police officers were “legally justified” to shoot under Florida’s “fleeing felon” law.
The incident- in which one cell phone recording of the event has been viewed more than 900k times- led to widespread criticism of Miami Beach’s safety due to the actions of Urban Beach Week attendees and the police.
Seemingly in an attempt to overcome the weekend’s poor reputation, Miami Beach city commissioners quietly approved, in in late 2016, the “National Salute to American Heroes” sea and air show for Memorial Day Weekend.
Commissioner Michael Grieco proposed it as “alternative programming” to Memorial Day events, “where [last year] there were 150 arrests during that weekend alone…. [Grieco] believes it is time the residents take back Memorial Day Weekend,” according to city records.
A civil rights and plaintiffs’ lawyer and past president of the Greater Miami ACLU, John De Leon, stated the Urban Beach Week is the largest institutionalized displays of racism in the United States because of the “paramilitary [police] operation on the beach.”
He later referred to this year’s “National Salute to American Heroes,” as “a blatantly racist attempt by the city to suppress the predominantly African-American crowd that normally comes to Miami for Memorial Day weekend.”
“I didn’t realize that watching planes and looking at military ships was some sort of race-specific thing,” said Grieco to a local TV show when the question of race was brought up.
Luther Campbell, wrote “Grieco took a page from Donald Trump’s playbook by disguising his racism with patriotism,” in his Miami New Times article titled, Miami Beach’s New Air Show is Actually Racist Ploy to Drive Black Tourists Away.
City Manager Morales contends, “we want the image of Memorial Day weekend to be any one of any age is welcome to come and have a good time and we’ll have a good time. This is the beginning of that process.”
Despite the assumptions that the city’s intentions are racist, the crime statistics suggested the Urban Beach Week event still led to increased crime in Miami’s South Beach over the weekend.
By late Sunday afternoon, officers had made only 63 arrests, mainly for misdemeanors like disorderly conduct, but later that night there was a shooting and numerous fights in public places along the beach.
One Urban Beach Week attendee boasted witnessing the unruly behavior by posting a video of a brawl on YouTube with the caption, “It gets all the way litty!! On south bitty!!! @yungcaf gets the fight in #southbeach #miami #memorialdayweekend.”
A parking lot dispute turned into a homicide in a very public place on Ocean Drive on Sunday evening. During an argument over vehicles colliding, while attempting to park, one driver’s occupant opened fire, shooting one victim in the back and another in the leg.
While fleeing the scene, the driver crashed into two Miami Beach police vehicles. The succeeding confrontation with police resulted in them firing upon the vehicle, leaving one person in the vehicle with a gunshot wound that later took his life.
Police have arrested the alleged shooter, an amateur rapper from Brooklyn who was visiting Florida for a Saturday night performance at the Miami LIVE club. The rapper is accused of firing at least two shots, striking a 30-year-old Floridian from behind.
A video -originally posted to Instagram by Miami resident Isiah Orlen- recorded the police gunfire during their altercation with the shooting suspects. Just before the gunfire erupts, a female voice in the recording can be heard laughing -seemingly because the violence during this weekend is all too familiar to her- while saying, “police chasing on South Beach, Memorial Day weekend.”
Commissioner Michael Grieco said the most recent shooting may mark the end of the [Urban Beach Week] Memorial Day celebrations in Miami Beach. “To be woken up by reports of gunfire and homicide is something that breaks our hearts,” he said.
While the sea and air show might not have deterred the city’s unwanted guests from visiting, it did seem to attract some guests who would have not previously visited Miami during the weekend as well as some who stumbled upon it during their already scheduled visit, according to the Miami Herald.
For those who were able to attend it was a sight to see, featuring almost every fighter aircraft the military has to offer, the Army Golden Knight parachute team, helicopters, and even a supersonic B-1 Bomber.
Attendees of the free daytime event were also able to see six football fields of military displays from all branches, interactive exhibits and have the chance to meet military -including actual soldiers of the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group- and first responders in person.
If it was up to Popular Military to guess, Miami’s National Salute to America’s Heroes Air and Sea Show is likely here to stay while the Urban Beach Week’s 20-year tenure has expired.
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