Did Safety Measures Water Down Urban Beach Week?

May 23, 2014

Credit Emily Michot / Miami Herald

Memorial Day usually means one thing in Miami Beach: Urban Beach Week.

We’ve seen the fuss about Urban Beach Week in the past. We know swarms of people populate Miami Beach clad in the latest fashions and driving the flashiest cars. The mere word “traffic” probably sends a migraine spiraling through your head, as thoughts of closed streets, congested roads and an army of police officers consume your mind.

But there doesn't seem to be as much fuss this year. 

In 2011, a fatal shooting at Urban Beach Week left city police with the responsibility of implementing more safety and traffic regulations. This year, 600 cops were set to patrol the streets of Miami Beach.

Marcelo Salup has been going to Urban Beach Week every year for the past five or six years. But he didn't plan on returning this year.

“Making Miami Beach into a Nazi prison camp, with cops every five feet, fencing, guard towers. … That is absolutely not acceptable," he says. "So this year I’m not going and not because of the crowd, but because of the cops.”

Salup says he thinks there's a big "elephant in the room" when it comes to distaste about Urban Beach Week.

An Urban Beach Week goer cradles his newborn.
Credit Marcelo Salup

"People absolutely hate the fact that it's 250,000 black people coming to Miami," he says bluntly. "They're racist."

Salup is a white Hispanic who says the racial discomfort during Urban Beach Week is obvious.

Meanwhile, Andre King, a black Miami Beach resident and business owner, left home during Urban Beach Week for a different reason. He calls the event "terrible."

“I’ve been living in Miami Beach for eight years, and the disrespectful people who come to Miami during this time… I steer people in the other direction,” King says.

Terrance Smith, owner of BlackBeachWeek.com, an event website for Memorial Day Weekend festivities, says he thinks the event is primarily about fun and culture.

"I think it's a celebration," says Smith. "It's an annual event where everyone gets together and has a good time."

In case you're unfamiliar with exactly what Urban Beach Week is, it's an unofficial celebration that isn't sponsored by one organization. Smith says it was born out of Urban Fashion Week, a celebration of the late 1990s.

“After that, it became a giant event where everyone gathered,” says Smith, who's also promoter of Urban Beach Week  events.

Smith, who says he helped coin the term “Urban Beach Week,” says people often get the event confused with Freaknik, a celebration that used to be popular in Atlanta.

“Freaknik was more of a spring break celebration. Urban Beach Week is more of a summer celebration,” says Smith. “They both have completely different atmospheres and crowds.”

Smith says Urban Beach Week is like a free car and fashion show, with donks rolling down Ocean Drive and people wearing in the latest fashion trends.  It also features a string of hip-hop, R&B, and recently announced reggae/dancehall performances.

He isn't sure if there's a decaying in Urban Beach Week crowds due to the traffic and safety regulations. But he still thinks it's the number one spot for Memorial Day weekend vacationers.

"I think there's a lot more competition from other events [and vacation destinations]," he says. "But Miami is still the number one spot."