MIAMI—SWAT teams moved in to disperse massive crowds of spring breakers who stayed out past an 8 p.m. curfew in Miami Beach on Saturday night, firing pepper balls and sparking a stampede as people fled.
Sirens and shouting filled the air as police sought to force party-goers to leave the area. On Ocean Drive in South Beach, police rolled in about a half hour after curfew to find one huge street party.
Different groups of young women had been dancing and twerking in front of giant bluetooth speaker boxes playing rap music. In front of the shuttered News Cafe on 9th and Ocean Drive, a very large crowd had gathered around four young men having a dance off, with the unmistakable odor of marijuana hanging in the air.
A cop over a loudspeaker barked, “Everyone needs to leave the area. The curfew started at 8 p.m. You need to disperse.”
The crowds would respond to the interruption by simply moving to the next block before resuming partying. At one point, a man began making it rain dollar bills, sending party goers scrambling for the cash. Then came the pop, pop, pop of the pepper balls being deployed, creating a panic and sending people scattering. Several people could be seen getting knocked over amid the mayhem. One young man fell to the ground, gripping a Hennessy bottle that he deftly kept from breaking.
It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone was injured in the chaotic scene. The crowd had thinned out significantly by around midnight. Police did not immediately disclose the number of arrests made throughout the evening, if any.
The city had declared a state of emergency just hours earlier, announcing that authorities would enforce a curfew each night beginning Saturday, and that major roads into the city would be closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. but for one lane. Tourists are not being asked to leave, rather to stay at their hotels after hours.
The move came after crowds of hundreds of partygoers turned violent in recent days, brawling in the streets with the use of restaurants’ outdoor dining tables and chairs. A fight that started Thursday night at a restaurant on Ocean Drive ended in multiple arrests.
Some party-goers seemed unfazed even after police rolled in on Saturday night with anti-riot gear.
A shirtless 20-year-old who identified himself as Q Johnson sat against the window of a Supercuts on 13th street and Washington Avenue along with two of his friends. They watched a swarm of police officers in golf carts and ATVs on the street. A female officer riding in the passenger seat of one of the carts toted an assault rifle.
Johnson, a student at Manhattan College in New York, said he and his friends have been in town for three days and are leaving Sunday. “It’s crazy out here,” Johnson said. “It's lit. It's chaotic.”
He said despite the huge police presence, he hadn't seen cops harassing too many spring breakers. “They are not bothering anybody really,” he said.
Johnson was equally unconcerned about catching COVID-19. “We’re good. We’re young,” he said, adding that he hasn’t gotten the vaccine and doesn’t plan on it.
“We don't trust that bullshit,” Johnson said.
Despite being out and about, he said he believed it was right for the city to impose an 8 p.m. curfew.
“Too many motherfuckers out here being lawless,” he said. “But everybody is gonna go against it. I'll probably be a part of it.”
Johnson was not alone in his defiance.
“The curfew is not gonna stop me,” said a 24-year-old University of Illinois senior who identified himself as Jeb Jones. “I'm not worried about it. People are waiting in line to get into McDonald's. That is the low point we are at,” he said, standing outside a McDonald's where a group of revelers was waiting to get inside and another party-goer danced on top of his truck nearby.
Jones said he was in Miami Beach for a week with friends—and they had no plans to slow down. “We will continue to rage. The bars are great.”
Universities throughout the country have canceled the usual weeklong spring holiday, but academic obligations have not stopped students from hitting vacation spots, especially in Florida where coronavirus precautions are more lax than in other states.
The influx of tourists has infuriated Miami Beach residents, most of whom could not be found among the crowds dancing in the streets on Saturday night.
“Time and time again during this pandemic, tourists are ruining everything,” a 29-year-old resident told The Daily Beast.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber also appeared to point the finger at out-of-towners during a Saturday press conference, “I love that this is a beautiful place, that people come here to gather and enjoy our weather and our beaches. But right now, it has become too challenging in the tourism industry to continue that way.”
Gelber speculated that spring breakers have hit the destination city harder than usual because “there are very few places in the country that are open.”
The Clevelander hotel, a well-known destination on Ocean Drive, announced Saturday that it would close its restaurant and bar until March 24 as a safety precaution, though it would pay employees’ salaries throughout.
“Recently, we have grown increasingly concerned with the safety of our dedicated employees and valued customers and the ability of the City to maintain a safe environment in the surrounding area,” a statement from the Clevelander read.
How forceful crowds will be in their demands to party and how aggressive police will be in implementing the restrictions remains to be seen. Hotel staff who spoke to The Daily Beast were skeptical that any safety measures would control the revelers.
“That is going to start trouble, isn’t it? 8 p.m. That’s never going to happen. That is just wild,” Patty, an employee at the Starlite Hotel on Ocean Drive, told The Daily Beast on Saturday.
A 32-year-old Miami resident likewise scoffed at the emergency measures.
“Honestly, closing down Miami Beach means nothing. People are just going to flock to Brickle and Wynwood. People just need to go,” he said.
The tourists have locals staying home for a wide variety of reasons—the coronavirus, violence, and more mundane problems like road congestion.
“I haven’t seen traffic this bad in years. It’s like Ultra traffic but worse,” another resident said, referring to the annual electronic music festival. “I am scared to walk down the street honestly.”