As the wildly popular Urban Beach Week 2011 came to a close, 22-year-old Raymond Herisse lost his life in a hail of police gunfire after it was claimed that he attempted to run officers over with the vehicle he was driving. This tragic incident, which was video taped and posted on YouTube, underlines the difficult relationship between Miami police and the impoverished communities they serve. It has heightened the debate over whether the time has come to put an end to an event that has attracted thousands of mostly African–American youth to the streets of Miami’s South Beach for more than a decade.
Urban Beach Week, considered the largest hip hop street fest in the world, remains one of the last festivals of its kind geared towards people of color. Originally marketed as an arena for urban fashion designers like FUBU to showcase their latest gear, this controversial event now boasts over 200,000 visitors mostly from America’s inner cities, transforming South Beach during Memorial Day Weekend from a pastel town of snowbirds and plastic into a chocolate toned gangster’s paradise with the aspirations of a whole generation of youth in clear view.
Over the four-day weekend, hundreds of police stand alert as dreadlocked kids and chiseled generals with apocalyptic scripts tattooed into their torsos cruise the Avenues in candy painted cars blasting the latest rap while beautiful women parade the streets in sundresses and “lick ‘em up” bikinis looking to make a connection. Aspiring rappers and media moguls navigate the streets promoting their latest product while thousands more pack South Beach’s many shops and restaurants.
I began this body of work five years ago, and these portraits are a representation of strength and rough beauty and an imperfect study of the power of popular culture on the collective consciousness of our youth.