SOUTH BEACH TIPPING POINT
June 1, 2011
By David Arthur Walters
The Miami Mirror
MIAMI BEACH – The whole world has watched the video of the shooting spree winding up this year’s Urban Week ghetto fete in Florida’s once chic South Beach. Everyone has heard the Collins Avenue corridor punctuated by gunfire and watched the black car slowly moving along, followed by a column of white-shirted police officers who were apparently shooting at the car.
The vehicle came to a complete stop at the corner, where it stood for a minute and was semi-circled by police. After a pause, the officers let loose with a hail of gunfire that reminded the audience of the conclusion of Bonnie and Clyde’s career. Anyone inside that car had to be dead. That reportedly turned out to be a man without a gun.
The facts known thus far are sketchy, and some may not be facts in the true sense of the word. The driver reportedly hit a police officer with his car, sped off towards officers on bikes, and ran over their bikes when officers leaped off them, and then ran into several cars, coming to a halt on the corner. Several people including cops and bystanders were shot or injured in the free-for-all. A witness said the man in the car was firing a gun at the officers. Another witness said passengers had fled from the car.
If that incident were not bad enough, another man reportedly attacked a police officer with a car over on Washington Avenue, prompting her to draw her weapon and fire at the car in self defense. The driver was not hit, and was duly arrested. Channel 7 captured hundreds of people on Washington Avenue screaming and running for their lives. The source of the gunfire was unknown, and witnesses said police Maced people while trying to sort things out.
Many residents have concluded that the man in the first car had been seriously wounded, that when he reached the corner, he was summarily executed by the police officers. Undoubtedly, some said, the so-called criminal liberties union will protest, but we are sick and tired of Urban Week and are proud of our police officers. If they deliberately executed that man, fine, let that be a lesson to the disrespectful and uninvited crowd that swarms down here every year to trash our home.
Whether or not the man had a gun and fired upon anyone is beside the point if the event is the tipping point that prompts the end of the disgraceful Memorial Day assaults on South Beach. South Beach has suffered this sort of thing for ten years now. Hundreds of thousands of people crowd South Beach every year, demonstrating total disrespect for the community as well as for the holiday memorializing the valiant men and women who fought and died for our freedom from crimes against humanity and chaos. Since the swarm to South Beach happens to be black, complaints are greeted with racist accusations of racism.
Our police officers are accused of being trigger happy. A police officer must have public respect to function effectively. Any police officer’s finger might be tipped to pull the trigger when she, no matter how well trained, is confronted with a wholly disrespectful context that seems to immediately threaten her authority. And her job is made even more difficult when she has orders to stand down to keep the peace, to ignore much of the behavior that disgraces the law-abiding community until it too goes to hell.
Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book, The Tipping Point, explains how the power of context can tip behavior one way or another. He recites research to the effect that if little things like broken windows and graffiti are tolerated, it will not be long until the whole neighborhood goes to hell. We recall one of the Broken Window Theory experiments: a few windows were broken, some graffiti was visibly placed: researchers discovered that poor black people were not necessarily to blame for chipping in to make matter worse; relatively affluent white people were most likely to add to the damage.
Upbringing and training does matter but does not fully explain behavior. The context matters: a person will behave differently in different contexts. Given the suitable context, the person you admire, perhaps your favorite colleague, may stab you in the back, or abandon you beside the road because he has an appointment elsewhere.
Gladwell concludes that it was the state of disrepair of the New York subway trains and the lack of enforcement of petty crimes thereon that tipped people to make matters worse. If little things are not important, if minor crimes are not enforced, one has a better chance in that place of getting away with big things and major crimes. Therefore, on December 22, 1984, four black youths with criminal records were going to rob Bernhard Goetz, a white professional, on the No. 2 train, so he pulled a gun and shot them.
Gladwell psychoanalyzes Goetz and ascertains that he was predisposed to vigilantism, therefore he had taken an apartment in a dangerous area, was constantly complaining of crime around there, and when he got on the train he practically invited the obviously delinquent youths to rob him.
What Gladwell does not do is point out that Goetz was the tipping point towards order that reversed the tipping towards disorder. I rode the rails with Goetz and other harried New Yorkers in 1984. I was familiar with the blight around his apartment on Fourteenth Street because my dentist had an office nearby. The subway system was as bad as Gladwell describes it; the graffiti, the broken down trains and tracks, the fires, the stench of excrement and urine, and the crime were out of control – I recalled a boy being robbed of his tennis shoes at gunpoint at Goetz’ stop at Fourteenth Street and Seventh Avenue. I had recently arrived from gun-happy Alaska, where everyone I knew had several guns, and I was astonished by the disrespectful behavior I witnessed on the New York subway, and attributed it to strict gun laws.
Gladwell quotes Goetz as saying, “If you corner a rat and you are about to butcher it, okay? The way I responded was viciously and savagely, just like that, like a rat.” Gladwell concludes the chapter with, “Of course he did. He was in a rat hole.”
Goetz, no matter how mentally unbalanced he might have been, was a hero to many New Yorkers of all hues, the straw that broke the stubborn and unruly camel’s back, the man who raised consciousness to the point where the police were warranted to crack down on quality of life crimes, knowing that a reduction in major crimes were bound to follow. Of course it would be politically incorrect to make too much of his vigilantism, or to call him a tipping point, because even more disaffected people might take up arms and start shooting.
South Beach residents and visitors are mostly law-abiding therefore they usually let law enforcement do the shooting for them. Ninety percent of residents want Urban Week to end – they do not want a compromise. “Forget replacing hip hop with jazz. The ridiculousness must end!” one woman who worked the ghetto event said. “Shut down the clubs and bring in the National Guard,” said another resident. Hopefully this latest police shooting will be the tipping point so long hoped for.
VIDEO OF SHOOTING
YOUTUBE VIDEO OF SHOOTING
June 2, 2011. The Miami Beach Police Department announced that a gun has been found in the car, and that it took several days to discover it because it was “out of sight.” Police Chief Carlos Noriega called the discovery “great news.”
A little historical research can work wonders. Here is Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm’s article on the subject: