MIAMI BEACH - The US city of Miami Beach, overrun by crowds of spring break tourists throwing Covid caution to the wind, has extended a state of emergency to stem the chaos -- drawing accusations of unfairly tough tactics against mostly Black revelers.
Video and photos on social media show half-naked women twerking on the roofs of cars, men offering them wads of bills and a crowd of tourists huddled side by side, dancing and passing bottles from hand to hand -- plus brawls, gunshots fired in the air and stand-offs with police.
"A lot of times when spring breakers come, whether they're black, white or whatever, there is some sort of anarchy," Retha Boone-Fye, program director for the Black Affairs Advisory Board of Miami-Dade County, told AFP, saying the city had every right to expect visitors to behave.
"Where we part ways is the way that the black visitors are dealt with," she said.
On Saturday city manager Raul Aguila imposed a nighttime curfew on the most touristy streets of South Beach, the center of the party, and ordered the closure of the three bridges that connect the island with Miami from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am.
Commissioners Sunday authorized Aguila to keep the emergency in place until April 13, the end of the annual university vacation period that draws thousands of students each year -- but the emergency measures, valid Thursday through Monday, are not easy to implement.
On Saturday and Sunday nights, there were images of dozens of police cars trying to evict the crowd of revelers, sometimes throwing pepper spray projectiles.
"I'm not sure that that would have happened, that crowd being predominantly white," said Boone-Fye. "There's subtle racism, and there's overt racism."
"Not to excuse their behavior, but... the way they are being handled should be uniform and should not be based on color," she said.
Critics point out that there has been much less talk of Fort Lauderdale, around 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the north -- where the tourists are mostly white.
There, too, crowds of party-goers throng streets and beaches, huddle together as they celebrate what they -- inaccurately -- believe to be the end of the pandemic, and get into sometimes armed brawls that have left at least one person dead.
'PUSH THOSE LIMITS'
Miami Beach police chief Richard Clements says the challenge in his city has been two-fold this year: Florida's looser pandemic restrictions are drawing many more tourists, and tensions still linger following mass anti-racism protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
"This a combination of Covid and also, for the most part, what we're dealing with in law enforcement, is the backlash from last summer and the George Floyd situation," he said on Local 10 News.
"If you want to enjoy yourself, fine -- but if you are going to push those limits, if you are going to break the rules then we have an obligation to intervene and stop it."
Police said Monday two men had been arrested for allegedly drugging and raping a woman who was later found dead in her hotel room.
Since February 3 in Miami Beach, 80 weapons have been confiscated and 1,000 arrests made, 350 of them for felonies, according to the city's executive order.
Every year the crowds are problematic, but this time they have been overwhelming -- something Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber attributes to tourists looking to flee pandemic restrictions.
But when asked about the suggestion Black revelers were being singled out by law enforcement, Gelber pushed back.
Gelber told Local 10 "we are not targeting a group of people, we are targeting conduct."
He added in a statement that "there has been gunplay, open brawling and other hazards. And all that in the midst of a pandemic where mask usage and physical distancing seems like an afterthought if that."
© Agence France-Presse