Black leaders slam Miami police SWAT tactics to disperse spring break crowds

Miami Beach's police chief said he's reviewing why pepper balls were used, but said, predictably, 'I think officers felt threatened.'

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The police tactics used to disperse crowds this weekend in Miami Beach are being decried by Black leaders, who are calling the curfew crackdown “unacceptable.” 

Despite Miami Beach being a popular tourist destination — even during the height of the coronavirus pandemic — when the crowds turned Black and brown, police utilized SWAT tactics like pepper balls and sound cannons to disperse them. 

People enjoy themselves along Ocean Drive Friday night in Miami Beach, Florida, where college students arrived for the annual spring break. Police tactics used to disperse the crowds are being decried by Black leaders, who called Saturday’s curfew crackdown “unacceptable.” (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“I was very disappointed,” Stephen Hunter Johnson, chairman of Miami-Dade’s Black Affairs Advisory Committee, said Sunday morning. “I think when they’re young Black people [on South Beach], the response is, ‘Oh my God, we have to do something.’”

Glendon Hall, chairman of the Black Affairs Advisory Committee of Miami Beach, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph the arrival of SWAT trucks caused tensions to rise, and the deployment of pepper-balls set off a panic. 

Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements said he is internally reviewing why pepper balls were used on tourists. He opined, predictably, “I think officers felt threatened at the time.”

“There has to be an element there,” said Clements, “of either the crowd fighting or coming at officers.”

Miami instituted an 8 p.m. curfew on Saturday, called for by interim City Manager Raul Aguila, who declared a state of emergency. “These crowds are in the thousands,” Aguila told The Miami Herald. “We’re at capacity.”

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He said that he hopes to keep the emergency orders in place until April 12, but they will likely hold only until Tuesday evening. 

The 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew affected South Beach’s main commercial strips — Ocean Drive, Washington Avenue, Collins Avenue, and Española Way — from Fifth to 16th streets, which had been deemed a “high impact zone.” 

In one viral tweet, police were seen tackling revelers. 

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Saturday night, Miami PD tweeted out a picture of an empty intersection, saying: “An aerial view from Ocean Drive and 8 Street after officers began dispersing crowds due to the 8 PM curfew in the Miami Beach Entertainment District.” 

Commenters used coded racial language in their replies, with one writing: “Thank you for rescuing our city back from the edge. We residents are thankful!! The quality of tourism in our fine town has dropped to below acceptable.”

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