Facing South Florida: Chaos On South Beach

Jim DeFede delved into the concerns being raised over the ongoing spring break situation, including the racial overtones associated with that.

Video Transcript

JIM DEFEDE: Welcome back. After witnessing the recent chaos of Miami Beach, we have heard from city officials, local residents, and businesses all decrying what has taken place. But was this inevitable? And how does race play a role in our perceptions? In a few minutes I'll speak to former state Senator Dwight Bullard. But first I caught up with Luther Campbell, who claims he tried to warn city officials months ago that they needed to be better prepared for the crowds.

LUTHER CAMPBELL: This government using the same handbook. Basically their handbook consists of creating a police state, having no organized events, just allowing a complete free-for-all.

JIM DEFEDE: You saw this coming. Talk to me about the red flags that you raised, was it like two or three months ago?

LUTHER CAMPBELL: Correct. Two or three months ago I had a conversation with them. I was actually invited to the conversation by Pastor Gary Johnson. And I sat on a phone call, and on that phone call with the mayor, chief of police, some other chiefs, I think it was the acting city manager. And right then I raised my hand, and I said, look, if you don't do anything this week on spring break or Memorial Day weekend, it's going to be catastrophic for you guys because you're talking about a situation where people have been locked up in the house for almost a year, and they're going to come running out to the beach.

So I say, look, you need to have events on the beach. You need to open up these hotels and have events at the hotels. You need to have seminars and speaking engagements. You need to let them have their fraternity, step shows and all that. Make it a college free event.

JIM DEFEDE: Well, it almost seems naive in the sense that if we don't program anything, nobody will come. The people were coming anyway. So the question wasn't, do we invite them to come to the beach or not invite them to come to the beach. They were coming to the beach. The question became, what do you do with them once they're here? Is that your point?

LUTHER CAMPBELL: That's my point. The city of Miami Beach have a great working relationship with the hotels. They can tell in a matter of minutes how many people are coming and where they're coming from based on the occupancy at the hotel. So they already know that. These kids are planning, pre-planning way ahead of time. So you know your numbers went up in the hotels during a pandemic.

So again, there are things that government can do to make-- if you don't want to have this event, if you don't want to have people over there, you just tell the hotels, your occupancy is at 50% or 25%. You then, at the same time, you say, we're going to have before-- you're going to have an 8 o'clock curfew and that's what we're going to do. Or you're closing down, no different than what you did in the beginning of the pandemic.

So they can't hide behind the fact that, OK, because it's a pandemic we want to not schedule any events. They made that decision on that phone call, that they did not want to have events during this time, on Memorial Day weekend, and they wanted to then have the events the following year. And I told them, that is going to be a disaster.

JIM DEFEDE: And what was their response to you when you told them that?

LUTHER CAMPBELL: Well, we'll do a follow-up meeting. That's how politicians do. They love to have a follow-up meeting.

JIM DEFEDE: Was there a follow-up meeting?

LUTHER CAMPBELL: No. No follow-up meeting. Jim, they need to stop it because us as African-Americans, we don't like to see our kids get shot. We don't like to see our kids in the street fighting and doing crazy things. We don't like it. There are numerous amount of events around the country that African-Americans have, whether it's Caribana in Toronto, whether it's Ebony Fashion Week in New Orleans. We do great events around the country. It's so sad that Miami Beach can't get theirselves together.

JIM DEFEDE: When you look at those images on the beach, not just in terms of the failures of government, but how do those images make you feel?

LUTHER CAMPBELL: The images that I see earlier in the week of five police officers picking up and slamming an African-American student, not some random person, a student, picking him up, five people, throwing them down on the ground. And then with a clear understanding as the world that we live in right now, most of those kids are the kids that were doing the protests around the country, wherever they came from for George Floyd.

We live in a real toxic time right now that people need to really take the consideration that most of these kids were there, and they're not just Black kids. They're Black and white and everything. We look at the images. These kids have basically no respect for government and no respect for the law. They look at everybody as a situation of rebellion against government because they understand that government is just not fair.

JIM DEFEDE: It is impossible to ignore the racial component of this story. Still, this is not an easy conversation. No one, for instance, thought in the '80s and '90s that the spring break crowds that descended on Fort Lauderdale were somehow representative of white people. But there has always been a double standard when it comes to race. It is not fair, but I nevertheless asked Dwight Bullard, the president of the South Dade chapter of the NAACP to address it.

DWIGHT BULLARD: For individuals who are traveling, who are renting the cars, buying the plane tickets, getting the hotel rooms on the beach, for them it's a destination. And they want to feel welcome in a space where they're spending that kind of money.

JIM DEFEDE: As an African-American man, when you look at those images, do they embarrass you at all in terms of the way people were acting on Miami Beach?

DWIGHT BULLARD: I mean, for fear of sounding old but go ahead and sounding a little old, some of the images are challenging to watch. I'll be perfectly honest with you. We live in a social media age where folks are [INAUDIBLE] more and more and more. But what I would say, and I think folks in my age cohort would agree, is that there's a high likelihood-- and I can just attest to seeing this myself-- that things like that were happening when I was in my 20s or when my parents were in their 20s. It's just that we didn't put them on smartphones and thus put them on a platform for the whole world to see.

JIM DEFEDE: Are you worried that the image that is portrayed of young African-Americans reinforces a stereotype as these images are sent and transmitted around the country?

DWIGHT BULLARD: I always worry about that because of the notion of perception. Like no one-- when you're fighting for social justice, you don't necessarily want to have the reinforcement of the already existing stereotype that undermines the goal of what it is that you're trying to fight for. So that is always a challenge. But I would argue that when we think about Fort Lauderdale in the '80s or Panama City during the '90s, where you had seas and seas of predominantly white college students coming into a space, both happened to be similar, in my humble opinion. I remember going to Panama City when I was an undergrad myself and witnessing, and I was overwhelmed at just-- these folks from Indiana and Iowa who all just swarmed into Florida to hang out and have a good time.

JIM DEFEDE: Well, it's interesting because the common denominator between Panama City and Fort Lauderdale or Daytona Beach in the '80s and '90s with huge crowds and misbehaving crowds and pandemonium, those are largely white crowds. But people just attribute it to being young and stupid. We were all young and stupid at some point. But the problem is, on Miami Beach, it becomes young, stupid, Black people.

DWIGHT BULLARD: That's the major hidden issue of racism, is the ability to morph someone's thought process around the person just explicitly around the color of their skin. What's the difference between what happens in Tampa and Ybor City after Super Bowl or what happened this summer around the protests around the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. When a building gets set on fire or a window gets broken in the summer of 2020, that's a riot. But when a car gets flipped over or a police car gets burned in the city of Tampa after the Buccaneers win, those are just rambunctious people who are really celebrating the victory of the team.

And it's like, that is emblematic of what racism does to a greater society, is the ability to take two very similar incidents and shift the focus that one is more problematic than the other purely through the prism of race. And that's something we need to get rid of. What I would counter with that is that, regardless of what you're seeing on those images, someone put money down to stay at a hotel. Someone is buying food at a restaurant. Someone is renting a car. Someone is buying a plane ticket to be in that space.

JIM DEFEDE: We'll be right back.