Op-Ed

Black Spring Breakers treated more harshly by Miami Beach police | Opinion

This month students from across the nation travel to South Beach for Spring Break. They come from Georgia, New York, Connecticut, Minnesota, Alabama, as well as from our own back yard. Typically, Miami Beach can expect hundreds of thousands of college-aged students to arrive. They come in droves, to let loose, have fun, and enjoy themselves. They are a cultural melting pot of white, black, Latino, Asian, and other ethnic backgrounds.

However, disturbing images from the news reflects that not everyone is welcome here.

Since the beginning of Spring Break, videos reflect a disturbing number of incidents involving black participants and the Miami Beach Police Department. In these videos, black students are met with extremely aggressive policing from officers under the leadership of Chief Rick Clements, City Manager Jimmy Morales and Mayor Dan Gelber. In many cases, police officers are dressed in riot gear and carrying assault rifles loaded with rubber bullets to deal with matters likely related to intoxication, but that escalate because of the actions of the “adults in the room.”

These police-state tactics are initiatives spearheaded by Clements and have been, sadly, supported by Gelber and Morales. They are a far cry from the former Chief Dan Oates’ approach to addressing high-impact weekends when large numbers of youth come to the city. In fact, under Oates, the number of arrests and high-profile incidents decreased steadily until his departure. Usually, this would be a statistic that would please city officials – that is, until the numbers of black Spring Breakers began to increase. It is no coincidence that Gelber’s concern over the increasing numbers and incidents of fights that went viral on social media prompted this push to enforce more aggressive measures solely toward black students.

Say hello to the new Jim Crow.

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I met with the mayor along with Tommy Battle, the former director of the Department of Justice Community Relationship Services, to address his concerns regarding the viral videos and behavior of mostly adult, non-student visitors from the South Florida region who also visit Miami Beach during high-impact weekends.

It’s clear that the Miami Beach Police Department hs reverted to the callous, overzealous mistreatment of young black visitors during Spring Break. Most people view the city as an entry point to paradise, only to be treated as second-class citizens, while their non-Black counterparts are free to enjoy without fear of redress from law enforcement. The entire city of Miami Beach — lawmakers, law enforcement, and residents alike — need to reflect on the discriminatory way it treats some visitors versus others. Now is the time for structural change to what has clearly been longstanding policy and practice targeting young Black and Brown beach patrons.

It saddens me that for many black people, Miami Beach’s actions reinforce the belief that in America, the color of your skin brands you as a second-class citizen. Sadder still, is the fact that Gelber and Morales have allowed — if not encouraged — their police department to actively intimidate primarily, young college students. They appear to have done this with the sole objective to strip black Spring Breakers of their righs to vacation in a city that is largely financed by their tourist dollars.

This objective plays out in the worst possible way. An officer assaults a young woman, choking her and subsequently arresting her. This happened after the two collided while the young woman was running away from gunshots. As it happens, the police themselves fired assault weapons loaded with rubber bullets in Lummus Park. In other incidents, officers have shot pepper spray at Spring Breakers, and have spoken and dealt with the vacationers disrespectfully. I have grown weary of the excuse that the bad actions of one aggressive individual should not paint the picture of the entire group. However, where does this end? At what point are the officers we label “bad actors” policed? When do their partners and superiors enforce rules that are equitable and respectful of all people and not just people that they personally deem worth protecting? As a parent, I am no less fearful today for the well-being of my son, who has joined Spring Breakers on Miami Beach. My son may not yet pay taxes, but I do, and as a law-abiding, taxpayer, I say he is entitled to enjoy all that the city has to offer without fear that he will be profiled and attacked by an aggressive officer.

I do understand the increased tensions from the coronavirus measures, but these mandates finally erupted when someone was eventually shot. The shame of these events does not rest solely with the police department. It also falls on Gelber, who once appealed to the black community for their votes when he ran for Florida attorney general. He now finds it appropriate to intimidate those same voters’ children.

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Ruban Roberts is president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP. He wrote this on behalf of Dwight Bullard, president of the South Dade Branch of the NAACP; Daniella Pierre, second vice president of the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP; and Stephen Hunter Johnson, chairman of theMiami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board.

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