Howard Cohen and Martin Vassolo
The Miami Herald
Dec. 19—Miami Beach artist Havi Schanz posted a video to Twitter early Saturday morning of what appears to be cars doing donuts at the intersection of South Pointe Drive and Washington Avenue late Friday night just before midnight.
Others soon posted videos from residents showing what looks like a pre-planned flash mob “drag race” on the South Beach roadway.
In Schanz’s 69 second video, several drivers take turns doing drift donuts in the intersection amid screeching tires — with onlookers gathered and the sound of some cheers — until Miami Beach police show up.
The cheers soon turned to jeers on social media. And not just from frustrated residents, but from Miami Beach police and elected officials, too.
Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez told the Herald Saturday in an email, “It was a very busy night in Miami Beach. Over a dozen arrests were made in the late evening alone. Dozens of traffic citations issued throughout the city as well. We received a call at 11:52 p.m. with traffic concerns in the South of Fifth area. Due to an active foot pursuit, officers were establishing a perimeter in the Art Deco Cultural District to locate subjects who fled from officers and were possibly armed. The subjects were ultimately apprehended, arrested and charged with several felonies related to narcotics.
Officers got to the South of Fifth area at midnight and dispersed the crowds, Rodriguez said. “It is believed this group is part of a ‘car club’ that arranges these reckless driving events throughout Miami-Dade County. The MBPD is monitoring these groups and will proactively attempt to deter these events in the future.”
Police, mayor’s office react
In an email circulated to city officials, including Mayor Dan Gelber and Interim City Manager Raul Aguila, Police Chief Richard Clements wrote: “I think it’s important to note that this is an issue going on county-wide. This group seems very well organized as they scout an area before they commence with their foolishness. The fact that it was a very busy evening for the ADCD Detail only made matters worse because we couldn’t get there in time to catch those who were performing these dangerous stunts.”
Clements said he made a point to have officers reach out to concerned residents in the area. “The goal was to listen to their concerns and also take the opportunity to provide them information about the evening (the calls for service, etc.) and what was going on in the City at the time of this incident. We also wanted to assure them that we will do all that we can to keep this from happening again to include shouting down the locations/lots that they use to stage before they start with their dangerous and illegal stunts.”
In texts to a Miami Herald reporter, Gelber wrote: “Terrible. Another example that the Entertainment District has to go. We need to take bolder actions and redefine the area as a true cultural district.”
Commissioner Michael Góngora texted: “Another unfortunate video in South Beach and this time not in the entertainment district.”
Commissioner Mark Samuelian texted: “Public safety is job one and this incident is very troubling. We will continue to transform the Entertainment District and demand our Police take every action necessary to address.”
Aguila told the Herald in an email: “The chief and his team are doing outreach with the neighborhood. It is unfortunate, as I said, that a unique confluence of events did not allow us to respond faster but, as you will note, police in the area were involved in an on-foot pursuit of a person with a firearm in the vicinity.
“It is unfortunate that this disruption occurred but Chief Clements and his team are being extremely proactive today and have, since early morning, been reaching out to our elected officials and residents within the affected area who contacted the City to voice their concerns. We are also taking steps to be proactive in deterring this type of behavior so that future incidents of this kind do not happen,” Aguila said.
An outraged Alex Fernandez, Miami Beach Police/Citizens Relations Committee chairman, blasted on Facebook Saturday morning: “This is not a police issue. Our police have been out in full force in the ADCD — a financially unsustainable deployment of the police resources — but the problem will gravitate to other areas (like South of Fifth) unless the attraction for the bad behavior is eliminated. This is a land use and zoning problem that must be addressed once and for all. We need to pull the plug on the businesses that are attracting the bad behavior and criminal element to our city and occupying our police resources.”
SoBe residents react
Schanz also expressed frustration on his social media post.
“Miami Beach is officially regrettable. So sorry for people who still believe in the high price of his units on South of Fifth.”
“In Miami it really is all about the onlookers,” came a snarky tweet from someone posting as @SurgeonEarth.
Someone on a Facebook thread tried to discount the footage as “old news” coming from a 2006 “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” movie. That might sound plausible except for the fact “Tokyo Drift” was not filmed in Florida. “2 Fast 2 Furious,” the second movie in the series, was partly shot in Miami Beach in 2003. But there are multiple angles to the video posted Saturday and from different people. Plus, when the shots go wide there are no film crews visible.
And Miami Beach police, city officials and residents confirm the incident happened.
“This is a pop culture,” wrote Valerie Owen on Fernandez’s Facebook post. “This issue this was probably some kind of flash mob thing. How does pop culture paint Miami Beach? We see the videos. We hear how SoBe is portrayed in the music industry. It is going to take more than zoning because it is unlikely anyone in the crowd spent any money here except for weed and alcohol. I wonder how many participants just drove over the bridge.”
Added Wire Magazine publisher/editor-in-chief Rafael Carvajal on the Facebook post: “ZERO tolerance should be applied by the police against all hoodlums who violate the law! Arrest them all, fully prosecute them, let the press tell the stories. That way it will become clear they are not tolerated and eventually this bull$hit will stop once and for all!!!”
Francesca Porcelli, who lives on Washington Avenue and First Street, posted one of the videos. She said she heard loud car noises around 11:40 p.m. and thought someone was filming a movie in the area. When she looked outside, she saw a crush of cars blocking the street. Within hours, videos of the drifting demonstration in her neighborhood made the rounds on social media.
“I swear to God. It looked live a movie set,” she wrote in a Facebook message.
Donuts on South Florida streets are not a new nuisance.
In July, Miami Beach police arrested Xavier Faison of Texas and charged him with reckless driving after they said he was driving a Dodge Charger that did donuts on Collins Avenue. Police posted video of that incident capturing the engine revving, screeching brakes and a woman seen laughing while hanging outside the window as bystanders cried out, “Oh, my God.”
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