How far can a city go to keep Black spring break crowds out? Miami Beach tests limits | Opinion

In its all-out effort to shed spring break crowds that are largely Black and Latino, the city of Miami Beach, under new leadership, has gone too far this year.

No matter how hip the “breaking up with spring break” campaign tries to be, the optics of cracking down on everyone to punish the unlawful acts of troublemakers are awful.

White city leaders and police forget that by closing public garages in South Beach, allegedly as a tactic to stem violence, will have the result of shutting out people of color, so evoking the ugly racial history of acts to discourage Blacks from using Florida beaches.

Setting up DUI checkpoints to keep people from drinking and driving is valid.

Maintaining a strong police presence, as is done during other large-scale events — valid.

Placing a curfew and limiting drinking hours, after shooting and violence break out — valid.

But pricing out parking or closing public garages during two weekends that attract Black and brown people is discriminatory.

READ MORE: Miami Beach officials clarify sweeping parking closures for peak spring break weekends

Florida spring break history

It’s not how white college students were treated for their debauchery.

For decades, Fort Lauderdale was the spring break capital of unruly, drunk and high white teenagers who jumped off balconies, trashed hotel rooms, wore string bikinis and minuscule Speedo swimwear.

They engaged in lots of sex, not all consensual. Criminal acts were committed and some died amid drink specials that encouraged excessive consumption and loud wet T-shirt contests that demeaned women.

Boorish crowds took over beaches, kept police busy and annoyed locals. But, unlike the Black and Latino party-goers who pack South Beach, the white college throng didn’t face discriminatory measures like the closure of essential public services.

No, Fort Lauderdale didn’t end spring break after a few years.

In fact, the chaos was romanticized and idolized by Hollywood, forever cementing the March tradition in our minds, first with the movie “Where the Boys Are” in 1960, then its 1984 remake, as the stuff of dreamy Florida sun-and-surf adolescence.

Spring break crowds first peaked in the 1960s, but nothing compared to the 1980s, the era of cocaine cowboys and boatloads of refugees resettled and roaming in cheap, depressed South Beach. The area with the bad rap then was Greater Miami, dubbed “a city with an international reputation for violence,” in The Washington Post, and “Paradise Lost” in Time magazine.

Like Miami Beach now, elected government officials of “Ft. Liquordale” attempted to tame the chaos after more than 350,000 students packed the beach in 1985. They passed laws against public drinking, jumping into the pool from balconies, and reconfigured streets to discourage cruising The Strip.

Like Miami Beach Mayor Steven Meiner now, Fort Lauderdale’s mayor made public pronouncements, declaring students no longer welcome. The next year, arrests went up and crowds went down. Eventually, whites moved the party to Cancun, Daytona and more recently, Panama City Beach in North Florida, where guns and violence were also part of the picture last year.

READ MORE: ‘Miami Beach is shutting down spring break,’ they say. Yeah, right. Good luck with that | Opinion

Blacks & Miami Beach

Black young people began to see South Florida as a travel destination, not only during spring break but also Memorial Day after the debut of Will Smith’s wildly popular hip-hop “Miami” song video. Its popularity coincided with the NAACP lifting of a three-year African American area boycott, estimated to have cost $50 million, in response to the snubbing of South African President Nelson Mandela by city of Miami leaders.

Racial progress acknowledged, Blacks began to visit what became widely known as “Urban Beach Week.” But, after 2016 street brawls and a 20-year-old’s fatal shooting on Ocean Drive, Miami Beach began cracking down by installing electronic surveillance.

This year’s wholesale targeting by closing public parking, however, is an affront to civil rights — and plain wrong.

What’s next, bathrooms?