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Miami Beach, Overwhelmed by Spring Break, Extends Emergency Curfew

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One day after the spring break oasis of South Beach descended into chaos, with the police struggling to control overwhelming crowds and making scores of arrests, officials in Miami Beach decided on Sunday to extend an emergency curfew for up to three weeks.

The officials there went so far as to approve closing the famed Ocean Drive to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. — the hours of the curfew — for four nights a week through April 12. Residents, hotel guests and employees of local businesses are exempt from the closure.

The strip, frequented by celebrities and tourists alike, was the scene of a much-criticized skirmish on Saturday night between at-times unruly spring breakers who ignored social distancing and masking guidelines, and police officers who used pepper balls to disperse a large crowd just hours after the curfew had been introduced.

The restrictions were a stunning concession to the city’s inability to control unwieldy crowds of revelers that the city and the state of Florida had aggressively courted amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

“I believe it’s a lot of pent-up demand from the pandemic and people wanting to get out, and our state has been publicly advertised as being open, so that’s contributing to the issue,” David Richardson, a member of the Miami Beach City Commission, said on Sunday.

In an emergency meeting, the commission approved maintaining the 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew from Thursday through Sunday for three more weeks, which is when spring break typically ends. Officials also kept in place bridge closures on the nights of the curfew along several causeways that connect Miami Beach with the mainland.

The city’s decision to send police personnel in riot gear into the South Beach entertainment district on Saturday, only a few hours after the curfew was announced, came under heavy fire, especially from local Black leaders. They noted that many of the spring breakers who had been dispersed were young African-Americans.

“It’s the same group of kids that are in South Padre Island right now, except those kids happen to be white,” said Stephen Hunter Johnson, chairman of Miami-Dade’s Black Affairs Advisory Board, referring to the popular spring break destination in Texas.

Mr. Johnson said the city did a poor job of rolling out the curfew and enforcing it.

“This entire economy thrives off vacation,” he said. “But when you have kids that feel as if they are being over-policed or policed differently in an environment post-George Floyd, where we don’t shirk back from that but we confront it head-on, this leads to situations where the officers feel understandably like they’re being put in an unfair situation.”

The 8 p.m. curfew on Saturday in the city’s South Beach entertainment district was initially put in place for 72 hours. On Sunday, city officials voted unanimously to extend the emergency declaration until Monday, with the city manager empowered to extend it again.

Some blamed the unusually large crowds on a spring break season supercharged by a pandemic that has limited socializing. Mr. Richardson, the city commissioner, said what Miami Beach was facing “is far greater than spring break, and that’s why we are experiencing the large number of crowds that we are.”

Ricky Arriola, another city commissioner, said at the meeting, “Shutting things down cannot be the way the city does business. It is embarrassing and it just shows we don’t know what we’re doing.”

Mr. Arriola also said that as the city is grappling with one holiday, it needs to start planning for another. “We got caught flat-footed this spring break and we’re going to walk right into the punch of Memorial Day weekend.”

Credit…Marco Bello/Reuters

Patricia Mazzei, Christina Morales and Reed Abelson contributed reporting.

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