Miami Beach commissioners were to hold an emergency meeting on Sunday, to determine whether to extend an unusual 8pm curfew aimed at curtailing spring break crowds that got so out of hand authorities had to call in SWAT teams.
Officers in bulletproof vests dispersed pepper spray balls on Saturday to break up groups that descended on sunny South Beach by the thousands, trashing restaurants and flooding the streets without masks or social distancing despite Covid-19 restrictions.
After days of partying, including several confrontations between police and large crowds, Miami Beach officials ordered an emergency curfew from 8pm to 6am, forcing restaurants to stop outdoor seating entirely during a three-day emergency period and encouraging local businesses to voluntarily shut down.
A military style vehicle was seen rolling down the palm-tree lined Ocean Drive on social media as outnumbered Miami Beach police officers struggled to disperse the raucous crowds. Tourists were urged to stay inside their hotels and pedestrians or vehicles were not allowed to enter the restricted area after 8pm.
The emergency order caused confusion, and defiance, in some cases. It was announced at 4pm, just four hours before it was to go into effect. Videos flooded social media during that time as rebellious – but largely nonviolent – crowds refused to disperse. Some people responded by jumping on top of cars, twerking and throwing money into the air.
Around 9pm, Miami Beach police tweeted pictures of empty streets. An email and phone call to Miami Beach police was not immediately returned on Sunday.
“Our city in this area has become a tinder,” Miami Beach mayor Dan Gelber said at a press conference on Saturday. “And we can’t have a policy of simply hoping it’s not lit.”
A famous bar, the Clevelander South Beach, announced it was temporarily suspending all food and beverage operations until at least 24 March after crowds crammed Ocean Drive, breaking out into street fights. At another restaurant next door, tables and chairs were smashed during a fight, news outlets reported.
Local officials and businesses have struggled to balance courting tourists to boost the economy while doing so safely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Miami tourism officials say billions of dollars were lost when the pandemic erupted last year, canceling spring break and forcing beach closures. The city’s tourism arm just spent $5m on its biggest national advertising campaign in 20 years.
At the same time, local officials banned alcohol from the beach, along with all alcohol sales after 10pm in an effort to curb partying. The city even sent cellphone text messages to tourists warning, “Vacation Responsibly or Be Arrested.
“Spring break in Miami Beach may be one of the great rites of passage, but only if you plan on following the rules. Otherwise, you might as well just stay home and save yourself the court costs,” the message read.
But local officials have struggled to enforce Covid ordinances. Under Republican governor Ron DeSantis’ pro-business stance, Florida has no statewide mask rules, limits on capacity or other such restrictions.