Miami Beach officials, residents grapple with spring break violence

Miami Beach officials, residents grapple with spring break violence
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March 23rd, 2023 | ABC News Radio

(MIAMI BEACH, Fla.) — Miami Beach, long the epicenter of fun in the sun for college students’ spring break respite, is dealing with an increase in violence including two deadly shootings on the iconic Ocean Drive in the past week.

The chaos has left city officials, including Mayor Dan Gelber, at a loss, and has forced the city to declare a state of emergency.

“I don’t think any mayor could say, ‘We did everything we could do,’ when you have deaths like this. I think that what we have not been able to figure out, and I think where we have failed, is how do we stop spring break from happening?” Gelber told ABC’s “Nightline.”

Local business owner David Wallack has been in the middle of the action for more than three decades. His popular restaurant and night club, Mango’s Tropical Café, is in the heart of South Beach.

“Anyone who thinks that, ‘Oh, look at the money they’re making,’ that’s an absolute lie … It is not the case. The only ones who are stuck on the front lines are the businesses and our staff,” Wallack said.

Wallack, who said he did not want to take any chances, decided to close his restaurant early throughout the weekend. A chaotic scene unfolded on surveillance footage just outside.

“We had multiple human stampedes of hundreds of people rushing at you like a tsunami of people. Plates, glass flying. People running over each other. Thank God nobody was trampled. We’re all literally in mortal danger in that kind of a situation,” Wallack said.

Wallack believes that city officials should be doing more to help, such as putting up barricades.

So far this spring break season, Miami Beach police have arrested more than 320 people and confiscated more than 70 firearms, four of them from the deadly shooting scenes.

“Our residents are rarely involved in any of this in any way. We’re policing somebody else’s playground. Our cops have tried to figure out the best ways to clear tens of thousands of people off of streets, the best way to stop public brawling, the best way to stop riotous behavior. But that’s very hard to do,” Gelber said.

It’s not the first year the city has had to deal with spring break violence. Last year, five people were wounded in two separate spring break shootings. The year before, police resorted to using pepper balls to try and control the crowds.

After a curfew was imposed on Sunday, the Miami Beach City Commission voted against a curfew for the upcoming weekend. The vote was divided, with some commissioners seeing a curfew as necessary to keep the community safe; others saying it would unfairly punish law-abiding businesses.

Mayor Gelber is pro-curfew.

“I don’t think you can balance public safety against anything else, including what would have been just a few hours, frankly, of bar receipts,” Gelber said.

City officials are bracing for another big weekend as the stage is set for the Ultra Music Festival that draws more than 150,000 visitors. That’s on top of those in town for spring break.

Meanwhile, Gelber said he’s determined to end Miami Beach’s reputation as a spring break destination.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get rid of spring break. Hopefully, this will be the last year we have these issues,” Gelber said.

Next year, Wallack wants to see the city declare an 8 p.m. curfew every weekend from Friday to Sunday.

“If I don’t see that happening, I’m closing Mango’s and putting my staff on their paid vacation,” he said.

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