The city is playing sound loops of children's songs including 'Baby Shark' overnight to keep people from lying about the patio of the city's Lake Pavilion.

WEST PALM BEACH — This isn't the first time music has been weaponized.

A biblical example: Joshua's Israelites trumpeted rams' horns to terrify the people of Jericho. A Hollywood example: Helicopters blared Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" through loudspeakers while strafing Asian villagers in "Apocalypse Now."

In real-life Panama in 1989, U.S. soldiers played high-volume rock and hip-hop to roust Manuel Noriega from his lair. At Abu Ghraib in 2004, American interrogators blasted heavy metal to weaken Iraqi captives' resolve.

Now the city of West Palm Beach has launched a music offensive, too, playing torturous sound loops all night long, of the children's songs "Raining Tacos" and "Baby Shark," to keep the homeless from lying about the patio of the city's Lake Pavilion.

The pavilion, a glass-walled events venue that overlooks the waterfront and downtown's Great Lawn, hosted 164 events from June 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. Almost half were weddings but there also were business meetings, bar mitzvahs, birthdays and graduation parties.

The city expects to rake in $240,000 from such events this fiscal year and wants customers to have a positive experience. They shouldn't have to trip over bodies when they or community events staffers come to set up at 5 a.m., or when caterers or a bride leave at midnight, says Leah Rockwell, Parks and Recreation director.

"People are paying a lot of money to use the facility," she says. "Thousands of dollars. We want to make sure people paying this money had a facility that was clean and open and continue to use it in the future."

Lately, she says, more and more homeless have been bedding down on the pavilion patio. So the city has resorted to new tactics.

They go like this:

"Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

"Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

"Baby shark!

"Mommy shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo....."

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That's immediately followed by:

"It's raining tacos from out of the sky

"Tacos, no need to ask why

"Just open your mouth and close your eyes

"It's raining tacos

"Raining tacos out in the street

"Tacos, all you can eat

"Lettuce and shell, cheese and meat

"It's raining tacos

"Yum Yum, Yum Yum Yummity Yum."

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Other Palm Beach County municipalities have tried similar tactics.

Three years ago Lake Worth Beach tried using soft classical music all day and night to drive drug dealers and homeless loiterers from the downtown Cultural Plaza. But people liked it.

Fifteen years ago, to drive violent drug dealers from Tamarind Avenue, the West Palm Beach Police Department played classical music through rooftop speakers housed in protective metal casings. That ended when somebody smashed the electrical cabinet that powered the speakers.

Sensitive to the optics of playing music to drive people away, city officials pointed out that West Palm Beach and several nonprofits are working on many humane fronts to attack homelessness, from building subsidized housing to sending engagement teams to hook up the willing with mental health services, job training and other programs, and giving the homeless one-way bus tickets back to their hometowns.

"Our staff and our partners know all the homeless by name and engage with them on a regular basis," says Jennifer Ferriol, director of Housing and Community Development.

But solving a problem as complex as homelessness takes time and the Lake Pavilion has a more immediate concern, Rockwell says. The city is working on a plan to formalize opening and closing hours for the park, to more easily enforce trespassing laws, but meanwhile, she says, the music is working.

"It has been effective and is a temporary measure to make the area accessible for those who have rented the facility and for future events. We are not forcing individuals to stay on the patio of the pavilion to listen to the music. The music is heard only if you are on the patio, a very small area relative to the rest of the waterfront."

On Monday afternoon, Illaya Champion, a homeless man, was lying on the sidewalk in the shade of a trellis 20 feet or so from the pavilion patio. He pulled a small towel pulled across his forehead to block light from his eyes as he rested on his back in the 87-degree heat.

The elevated patio, with an eave that extends a few feet out from the building, is a place where he can stay dry when it rains, he said.

"It's wrong," he said of the city trying to chase people off with nighttime music. The police also come over and threaten to throw people in jail, he said. But it won't stop him, he added.

That's his fate: rain or Raining Tacos.

"It don't bother me," he says. "I still lay down in there. But it's on and on, the same songs."

tdoris@pbpost.com

@TonyDorisPBP

 

This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network.