There are many perspectives on what happened in our core tourist area and beyond on Saturday – but this was exactly what the Daytona Beach Resort Area didn’t need.
With our hospitality industry in shreds and much of our local economy still closed – the coordinated influx of thousands of out-of-town visitors, invited to Daytona Beach by faceless event promoters who use social media to publicize events, then vaporize when things descend into lawlessness and violence – has left another indelible blemish on “the brand.”
Given the inevitable international media coverage that follows these things – with over-hyped headlines like “Blood on the Boardwalk” – our already taxed tourism industry will be forced to further repair an already tattered reputation.
In the aftermath, officials each have their own unique take on the event – law enforcement leaders consider their response a success because crowd and traffic control strategies worked as planned – politicians and social activists are seizing the moment to point fingers and Monday morning quarterback – while residents are left reeling from the sights and sounds of a chaotic fracas that brought fear of widespread violence that was flogged – non-stop – on social media.
We live in a world where information travels at the speed of a keystroke – where anyone with an iPhone camera and a Facebook account can push their physical and social point of view to the masses, literally at the push of a button.
On Saturday night, many of us first learned of the event when social media lit up with snippets of video showing traffic blockages on A-1-A, reports of a mass shooting near Ocean Walk, scenes of Sheriff Chitwood directing this deputies through a haze after a sports car smoked the tires danger close to a mass of onlookers, throngs of people blocking roadways, followed by another unruly commotion when someone distributed cash to the crowd through the sunroof of a surrounded vehicle.
For many residents, the event unfolded in a series of online vignettes and secondhand accounts – then speculation and confusion reigned as people chose to craft a narrative from these scraps and clips – rather than trust official sources.
Then, in the aftermath, fear naturally turned to anger as some questioned why beach authorities allowed large groups of people to openly violate the social distancing rules that hundreds of locals have been warned and cited for in recent weeks – not realizing that de-escalation techniques often require a tightening, or loosening, of enforcement measures to avoid unrest.
Trust me: These are decisions only those who are actually in the arena can make – often modifying strategies on the fly as circumstances change – and I believe our city and county officials did a commendable job of maintaining order and keeping people safe in a potentially explosive situation.
For instance, in 2018, after the Daytona Truck Meet turned into a scene from Mad Max: Fury Road, law enforcement regained control with the issuance of some 2,100 traffic citations – while city and county officials vowed never to host the event again.
In the United States of America, people of all races, colors, creeds and social pursuits have a right to peaceably assemble for lawful purposes – like gathering to enjoy a weekend at the beach.
In my view, second-guessing law enforcement – or demanding accountability for what was a textbook logistical example of how to move large numbers of people and vehicles out of the area following the shooting incident while returning stability to pockets of disorder – is, at best, misplaced anger, and, at worst, a quick way to place blame.
Yesterday, we were again reminded of the difficult and dangerous work our courageous law enforcement officers face everyday, when a man who had just attempted to carjack a woman in broad daylight turned his rifle on Daytona Beach police officers – who responded decisively to protect themselves and others.
We simply must stop blaming the police for societal failures they cannot control.
The fact is, any group that visits the Worlds Most Famous Beach has an obligation to follow the rules, obey the law, conform to the social mores and community standards that residents embrace as they enjoy our greatest natural amenity in a way that promotes public safety and leaves locals anxiously awaiting their return.
This isn’t about race – at least it shouldn’t be – and anyone who suggests otherwise is taking a very narrow view of the unfortunate events of Saturday.
And it isn’t about Daytona Beach – similar scenes of irresponsible behavior played out in places around the nation this weekend, as people sought relief from weeks of deprivation and isolation.
It is about personal responsibility and the perils of a flash-point mob mentality, when a few bad actors take advantage of a worsening situation and act out, engaging in selfish, violent and irresponsible behavior that diminishes our quality of life, instills fear, consumes civic services and, in the aftermath, irreparably damages the reputation of a community dependent on tourism.
In my view, when the influx of visitors is the result of a quasi-organized event that receives no permit or official authorization – one which places our community’s response behind the curve by requiring our public safety and planning officials guess at everything from the number of participants to adequate traffic patterns, staffing and crowd control strategies – that is unacceptable, and the blames lies squarely with irresponsible promoters who should ultimately be held accountable for their actions.