Miami Beach's sharp decline in arrests doesn't change gangster rap's reputation

Amid strong law enforcement presence, police report decline in arrests during hip-hop festival weekend


MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Several law enforcement agencies made sure that their presence was felt during Memorial Day weekend in Miami Beach. Urban Beach Weekend tourists were wary of police, and this year there was a sharp decline in arrests.

During the day on Ocean Drive, the crowd was friendly. There was spontaneous dancing across from the popular Fat Tuesday on ninth Street. And on Washington Avenue, there were flashy cars, and time for flirting, as traffic moved slowly and the  lines to get into nightclubs were long.

The Miami Beach Convention Center was the police department's epicenter. On Ocean Drive, there were officers in bicycles, horses, walking undercover and on a high temporary tower. On Washington Avenue, there were dozens of officers in cars and on bicycles.

"This is ridiculous. I was in Miami for Ultra and it wasn't like this," Jordan Gardener, 17, of Atlanta, said. "They didn't have a helicopter. Let's be real, they think hip-hop is a crime."

The majority of arrests during hip-hop weekend have traditionally been drug-related and most of the defendants have been black males. The average from 2010 to 2013 is about 400 arrests. Police released a report Monday that showed a sharp decline. 

Police arrested 414 people in 2013, and this weekend there were 191 arrests. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was present this year, and drug-related arrests were also low this year. While in 2013 there were 124 drug-related arrests, this year there were 66.

Surveillance also served to collect intelligence and to arrest people with pending warrants, police said. There were license plate readers in both McArthur and Julia Tuttle Causeway. And there were traffic stops and DUI  checkpoints.

Agents from the DEA and the Internal Revenue Service have collaborated with police to investigate money-laundering schemes related to the hip-hop industry.

The Black Mafia Family case epitomizes the business model. BMF founded  BMF Entertainment in Atlanta and promoted rappers Jay Jenkins, known as Young Jeezy and Barima McKnight, known as Bleu DaVinci. McKnight and about 40 other BMF members were charged  July 26, 2007.

The majority of defendants pleaded guilty. According to the indictment, BMF members were charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, and used the proceeds from narcotics sales to buy luxury vehicles, mansions and jewelry.

The lyrics often glorify the lifestyle: "New coupe, new crib, new chain, new watch," said Jenkins' song "Millions." And "I need some weed now. Somebody call the weed man. I'm trying to get high" was  the chorus to Jenkins' "Higher Learning."

For some, the weekend was work and an opportunity to network. And the work wasn't always legal. This year there were five arrests for prostitution and code enforcement officers were issuing citations for distribution of commercial materials on Ocean Drive.

Some were distributing homemade CDs with their music. Two aspiring rappers from Valdosta, Ga., were upset when a Miami Beach code enforcement officer took about 56 CDs on Ocean Drive Saturday. He said they could pick them up on Tuesday.

"I got a ticket for hustlin hard on South Beach," the Georgia rapper known as Ashton Martin said.

In high floors of luxury hotels on Collins Avenue, owners of record labels were also promoting their music with expensive gifts like speakers, catered dinners and expensive Champagne.

A group of women, who said they were models and exotic dancers from Atlanta, were at the Victor Hotel on Ocean Drive. Two of them had cash on their bags that they said they had earned at a penthouse party Friday night. They said they were going to be working until Monday morning.

At a large suit at the luxurious Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami Gardens rapper Tramar Dillard, better known as Flo Rida, was hosting the invitation-only party.  Dillard has a record label named International Music Group Strong Arm, based out of Hialeah.

The party allowed him to present a new video for "Recovery" a mixtape by rapper Alonzo Mathis, known nationwide as Gorilla Zoe. Some speculated the Haitian from Atlanta was related to the Haitian gang Zoe Pound, originally from Miami's Little Haiti and now spread through the East Coast and the Caribbean.

Mathis, Dillard and some Gorilla Zoe fans discredit the rumors.

"They need to leave King Kong Zoe. Yes, he is a hood ni---," Chloe Thornton, 16, of Atlanta said as she waited to go into Mansion early Sunday morning. "That motha f--- used to be with Diddy [Sean Combs]. Look, to make it out, it's the NBA, the NFL or MTV. Everybody knows that."