Sunday, June 05, 2011

Miami Beach Urban Weekend

I've kept this blog free of local politics primarily because Miami Beach and the rest of South Florida are so weird that they are not easily described or understood.  What I find most curious and admirable, used advisedly, are the simultaneous distrust of and tolerance for people who are different, the recognition, no matter how begrudging, that if I am to be allowed to be different, I better do the same to others, even if I don't like it—the Golden Rule turned into practical politics.  Everyone benefits, whatever their motivation.  It has not always been thus; like the rest of the country, especially not excepting the rich resort communities, these cities were founded in inequity and never made a turn toward true democracy.

Put another way, Miami is place where you don't ask a person on first or subsequent meetings what he or she "does," largely for fear you will hear something that turns you immediately into an unindicted coconspirator.  Miami is a place where someone you've known for years can suddenly one day come up to you and state: "Contrary to what many people think, I am not in the Federal witness protection program."  Miami Beach is a place where a small crowd of 'gentlemen' gather on the boardwalk to stare at a nice set of buns sandwiching a thong only to become offended when the object of their desire rolls over.  They accuse him of deception.  Miami Beach is a place where gay and lesbian couples with children are commonplace.

Miami Beach is also a place more than a quarter of a million young largely African-American men and women have gathered every Memorial Day weekend for the past decade or so for a raucous debauch.  Each year one or more of them go home in a box, victims of gunshot or automobile or motorcycle accidents.

As a rule, they have shot each other, but this year, Miami Beach cops did the shooting.   They killed one young man and wounded four or five others.  Their gunshots also caused a car to run into one of the city's squad cars.  These events have triggered cries from some residents of the Beach to shut down the Urban Weekend, as if they had any legal right to do so.  A number of people object to the sea of scantily clothed revelers moving from beach to street and back, to make me think they must not live on the Beach where scanty garb is the fashion.  People object to the noise—it is purely obnoxious, but no worse than for any other over the top event —the Super Bowl, for example—and the contempt the visitors have for the city, as seen in their inconsiderate sloppiness.

What should concern those of us who live on the Beach is not the behavior of the Weekenders, but of the Miami Beach cops, who already had become known for their harassment of and rudeness toward Beach residents.  Beach police managed a shootout with one car that resulted in a dead driver and wounded bystanders and cops.  The other shootout with a car lead to a crash that wrecked a policer cruiser and the other car.  It also led to the arrest of the driver, a veteran firefighter, it turns out.

Police should not be firing their pistols at cars anywhere but especially not on crowded streets where the risk of injuring innocent bystanders is great.  It is well documented that Miami Beach cops are lousy shots to begin with.  When you add to that the natural and well documented propensity of people not to fire directly at another person and semi-automatic pistols with ten or more shots in a clip, you have a recipe for mayhem.  And when you top that off with poorly trained cops who don't have the brains to step out of the way of a moving car but instead think they can stop it by standing in its way and firing at the driver, mayhem turns to bloody chaos.  How much easier would it have been to step out of the way of the  car rather taking a stand, gun blazing, as if you were a Soviet-era border guard sworn to prevent someone—anyone—from escaping to freedom?  How hard would it have been to follow the car until it stopped or could be safely stopped and then arrest the driver rather than fire round after round into the car, him and the crowd.

People demanding an  end to this annual gathering might think about why they came this way.  Rather then feeding people's worst instincts, city officials might concentrate on training their police better, starting with the lesson that they serve all the people and ending with the ability to respond intelligently to strange situations—that is without opening fire.   These steps would serve everyone.

But beyond all of that, city officials must make clear to the police that anyone seeking to block a full inquiry will be fired immediately.  Early police attempts to stop people from posting or sharing their videos of the shootings were ham-fisted attempts at censorship that are intolerable. That is the stuff of dictatorships.

No comments: