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After Urban Beach Weekend, What Was The Big Deal?

Nathaniel Sandler

On Friday evening the Standard Hotel and Spa was completely tented for the weekend, to reopen Sunday, while countless other businesses were closed up on Miami Beach.

Spiga Restaurant on 12th and Collins had a sign stating they were observing Memorial Day Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Ostensibly, businesses like Spiga really love the troops, but no one is fooled.

It seems like Miami Beach abstracted Memorial Day in more ways than one.

Urban Beach Weekend has become problematic for the City of Miami Beach and the residents of South Florida. The comment sections on some of the articles posted on other news sites devolved into racially charged platitudes and mean spirited drivel. Some seem horrified and outraged that black Americans would gather on Miami Beach for a weekend party.

I cannot guarantee comments on this article will not do the same, but I will say that I believe racism is not the answer to solving any of the problems posed.

I am a resident of Miami Beach and live only blocks from the impromptu epicenter of the party. I walked the streets a few times this weekend to soak in the scene. It is predominantly black, though there were a good deal of other races and faces interspersed. There is always an errant story or two about European families booking their dream beach vacation this weekend and not understanding what is happening. This is collateral tourist damage. And Memorial Day weekend is a black American event. There’s a different feel on South Beach, but walking on the sand this weekend is what makes Miami the tropical melting pot of the world.

Many of the police I spoke to on my walk said that the crowd this year was significantly diminished. Perhaps it is their heightened presence or the shooting of Raymond Herisse two years ago that has made some party goers to reconsider their vacation. Indeed, there were more police than I’ve ever seen in one place and from every agency in South Florida, multiple on every block, including private security hired for the weekend and working in conjunction with the police to help traffic flow. Collins Avenue was only running north, Washington Avenue only South, and Ocean was shut down completely. The other side of Washington was open for emergency vehicles and buses.

This traffic flow, and the major police presence, send a message of order and are intended to act as a deterrent. Most likely a deterrent to the 230 arrests the Miami Herald reported Monday had taken place.

The party-goers at Urban Beach Weekend are Americans. There is no focused event, like Ultra Music Festival, so there is nothing for Miamians to lobby against or focus their complaints. Yet we cannot discuss stripping away the basic rights of Americans just because it makes some residents feel uncomfortable. The discussion needs to shift towards accommodating all kinds of parties, and understand why those parties exist in Miami.

One option, like The Standard or Spiga to name a few, is to abstain altogether. Walking around alone myself at certain moments led to a few people heckling me, and it was slightly uncomfortably, but I chose to be there. As WLRN community contributor John Ermer suggests, you do not have to actually attend Urban Beach Weekend.

So maybe instead of being racist over the internet, as some choose, we should ask why Miami Beach appeals to contemporary African-American culture. In 2001, when the party was just starting out, Jay-Z and R. Kelly were throwing a party, but names that big are gone from the scene. We have to accept that, in its quest for excess, Miami has been folded into the larger hip-hop narrative as a sort of Shangri-La for those trying to opulently spend a bunch of cash in a nightclub.

Yet still, we cannot have it both ways. Miami, perhaps inadvertently but nevertheless has branded itself as a haven for excess and welcomes this kind of city-wide fiesta regularly. We cannot constantly throw parties and then be upset about who shows up.