That scene marked the height of an unusually busy weekend for Miami Beach police, as law enforcement faced off from Friday through Sunday with large crowds of spring breakers disregarding local coronavirus safety measures. More than a year into the pandemic, authorities worry the melee is a sign of what may come this month as covid-weary travelers flock to beaches.
If the pandemic outlook is different this time around — new infections have been trending downward, while more than more than 36 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated — the concerns about reckless partying have a familiar echo of spring 2020.
In Michigan, one bar is planning a 300-person St. Patrick’s Day celebration, complete with T-shirts that say, “Kiss me, I’m contagious.” City leaders in Houston have resorted to pleading with club owners who had planned massive parties to celebrate Texas’s rollback of coronavirus restrictions. And on the sunny beaches of South Florida, officials are bracing for an influx of restless partyers in search of a vacation.
“If you look at the numbers, we’re not out of the woods yet,” Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, warned on “Fox News Sunday.” While he cheered both rising vaccinations and recent drops in new infections and deaths, Fauci said those case numbers could level off and lead to another surge this spring.
He criticized a move by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to fully reopen businesses and lift a statewide mask mandate last week as “risky and potentially dangerous.” A similar rollback of rules on large gatherings, he said, would be “ill-advised.”
Case in point, perhaps, is the situation this weekend in Miami Beach.
According to an arrest affidavit, more than 200 people were drinking, smoking and blocking a busy commercial stretch in the South Beach neighborhood just before 7 p.m. on Friday.
Police had initially responded to reports of a homeless man being attacked in a nearby alleyway, they said.
But when officials moved one block over and began to break up the masses, 19-year-old James Harrison refused to follow orders to leave, police said. He began to yell, “F--- the police” and other obscene phrases, the affidavit said.
As they confronted the teenager, he allegedly pushed one of the four officers. A “large, aggressive, unruly crowd” gathered to watch the confrontation unfold on the sidewalk, and police pepper-sprayed the bystanders, the affidavit said. Another officer launched 11 pepper balls toward the ground.
Video obtained by WSVN shows a swarm of bystanders running away from the confrontation between police and a suspect in front of a clothing boutique.
When one policeman tried to handcuff Harrison, he allegedly pulled the officer’s vest by the collar and kicked and braced his body in resistance, the affidavit said. Another officer slammed him to the ground before a third punched him on the torso and a fourth used his knee to strike the teen’s shoulder.
The tussle left two officers with back injuries; they were taken to the hospital, the affidavit said.
Harrison was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer, incitement to riot and disorderly conduct. He could not immediately be reached for comment by The Post, and it is unclear if he has retained a lawyer.
About 100 people were arrested over the weekend in Miami Beach, a spokesperson for the city told CNN, but the coronavirus has made law enforcement activity more difficult. Officers are working 12-hour shifts to handle the increased crowds, WPLG reported.
The arrest affidavit said that Harrison’s actions made the hordes of people “aggressive toward officers … due to the large number of unruly subjects present.”
One bystander, Kevin Green, told the Miami Herald that “people were just having fun in that general area” before police arrived to break up the party. As Green saw the pepper balls go off, he saw people start running from the scene to get away.
Although Miami-Dade County imposed a nightly midnight curfew in December, Florida does not have capacity restrictions on restaurants or a statewide mask mandate. That relatively wide-open climate has drawn enough rowdy tourists to prompt concerns from local officials.
“We’re seeing too much spring break activity,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber (D) told CNN. “We’ve got a problem with too many people coming here. We’ve got a problem with too many people coming here to let loose.”