Saturday, June 11, 2011

Questions in Blood

In Pakistan recently, a teenage boy accused of robbing people in a park at gunpoint was arrested, shot twice while pleading for his life, and left to bleed to death, as the video on CNN clearly shows.  His gun reportedly was confiscated immediately following his arrest, not to reappear.

In Miami Beach on Memorial Day, at around 4 am, a dozen police officers surrounded a stopped car and opened fire, killing both car and driver in a fusillade of bullets and wounding four bystanders. Notwithstanding 'discovery' by police two days later of a semi-automatic pistol hidden in the car, there is scant to no evidence that the young man fired at anyone or anything. By every account but their own, Miami Beach Police on the other hand, physically tried to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses.  Unlike the young man in Pakistan, the young man in Miami Beach, Raymond Herisse, did not beg for mercy—he was given no chance to before he was gunned down. 

No one has been arrested or suspended in either country.  In fact, the Miami Beach police apparently have the full support of their city government. There is no independent investigation into what happened.  More dangerous, these trigger happy thugs are out on the streets of the city where they can threaten anyone with impunity. 

The Pakistan killing has raised protests around the world.  The question from Miami Beach is where are the ACLU, Amensty International, Human Rights Watch and the rest of the NGOs devoted to social justice and human rights? 

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Urban Beach Week Agony

Most readers of this blog will by now have seen far more of the cellphone videos of the killing of car and driver on Memorial Day, during the crescendo of Urban Beach Week, than i because I don't have a television feed.  But I've seen and read enough to know that we are lucky no riot followed the pollce mayhem at 14th Street and Collins Avenue in the wee hours of Memorial Day 2011. Indeed, that they did not says more about the general good spiritedness of the Urban Beach Week crowd than any news report I've seen or heard.

They certainly were better behaved than the police, who tried mightily in the aftermath of their shooting to death of a car and driver to provoke a full blown riot. The police tried to seize any camera or camera phone that might have recorded their perfidy.  They maced and physically assault people, and let us not forget, they shot four innocent bystanders.  The police deny these charges, David Smiley reported in the Miami Herald, although it is a bit hard to refute video tape showing an officer pointing his gun in the witness' face—this witness being the one who taped the police overkill.   Smiley's story ends with a cryptic statement that police found a gun in the car they shot up two—that's right, 2—days after the event.  Elsewhere, the gun was identified, I am told, as a 9mm Baretta 92f, a rather large semi-automatic pistol said to be possibly the most abundant 9mm in the world.  It is hard to fathom how that crucial piece of evidence could have gone unseen for two days, especially since police insist that the driver of the car had fired at them.

When I heard a report that the police shooters included officers from Hialeah, the heavily Hispanic, largely Cuban, city built on the mainland on the heart of the historic Everglades, I flinched.  People on the Beach who have been pushing for an end to Urban Beach Week routinely claim that their objections have nothing to do with race, but in fact race cannot be ignored.  The self-interested tolerance that represents one of Miami's finer qualities eventually comes face to face with racism and loses.  Thus, Haitians who make their way to the coast are locked up until they can be shipped back to their impoverished homeland, while Cubans are immediately and legally welcomed.  For 51 weeks a year, DWB (driving while black) is problematic in South Florida resort communities, including Miami Beach. The singling out of people of color for special scrutiny is behavior born of racial intolerance that doesn't change for one week a year.

What can be done to clean up this mess?  Miami Beach officials need to recognize that a significant number of police officers, perhaps including the chief, have committed a heinous act that might also leave them open to criminal charges.  For that reason they cannot be expected to investigate themselves, and so the city needs to request an independent investigation by the U.S. Justice Department or sponsor its own fully independent investigation. If it has not done so already, the city needs to collect the badges and guns of all officers involved until those investigations are complete.  It needs, as well, to rethink and redesign the training of its officers.  Finally, it needs to talk to the organizers of the Urban Beach Week in an effort to make it safer for everyone.

Those might seem like simple recommendations, but simple changes are often the hardest to make.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Who Was Out of Control

Who was out of control during Urban Beach Weekend?  That is the question the forces of righteousness on Miami Beach should ask themselves as they watch the cellphone video of a dozen or more out of control, armed and dangerous police officers shooting a car and its driver to death on crowded Collins Avenue in the wee of hours of Memorial Day.  The car was stopped when police running toward it and and those standing close by unloosed a fusillade of bullets that riddled car and driver.  They then appear to go after witnesses, especially those with camera phones, including the people taking this video.

I'm sure excuses and justifications will be thrown about with abandon—indeed, that's already begun—but a look this short video, made available through the Miami Herald shows that what happened went way beyond police brutality.  It was an atrocity perpetrated by officers who from all appearances worked themselves into a frenzy of fear and loathing and rage that left one person dead and at least four non-combatants wounded.

While the necessary independent investigations move along, those of us who live on the Beach should worry less about Urban Weekend revelers and more about our police, their training and judgment.  Certainly none of the officers involved in the shootings during the Memorial Day weekend should have a badge or a gun until this barbarity is thoroughly adjudicated.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Miami Beach Urban Weekend

I've kept this blog free of local politics primarily because Miami Beach and the rest of South Florida are so weird that they are not easily described or understood.  What I find most curious and admirable, used advisedly, are the simultaneous distrust of and tolerance for people who are different, the recognition, no matter how begrudging, that if I am to be allowed to be different, I better do the same to others, even if I don't like it—the Golden Rule turned into practical politics.  Everyone benefits, whatever their motivation.  It has not always been thus; like the rest of the country, especially not excepting the rich resort communities, these cities were founded in inequity and never made a turn toward true democracy.

Put another way, Miami is place where you don't ask a person on first or subsequent meetings what he or she "does," largely for fear you will hear something that turns you immediately into an unindicted coconspirator.  Miami is a place where someone you've known for years can suddenly one day come up to you and state: "Contrary to what many people think, I am not in the Federal witness protection program."  Miami Beach is a place where a small crowd of 'gentlemen' gather on the boardwalk to stare at a nice set of buns sandwiching a thong only to become offended when the object of their desire rolls over.  They accuse him of deception.  Miami Beach is a place where gay and lesbian couples with children are commonplace.

Miami Beach is also a place more than a quarter of a million young largely African-American men and women have gathered every Memorial Day weekend for the past decade or so for a raucous debauch.  Each year one or more of them go home in a box, victims of gunshot or automobile or motorcycle accidents.

As a rule, they have shot each other, but this year, Miami Beach cops did the shooting.   They killed one young man and wounded four or five others.  Their gunshots also caused a car to run into one of the city's squad cars.  These events have triggered cries from some residents of the Beach to shut down the Urban Weekend, as if they had any legal right to do so.  A number of people object to the sea of scantily clothed revelers moving from beach to street and back, to make me think they must not live on the Beach where scanty garb is the fashion.  People object to the noise—it is purely obnoxious, but no worse than for any other over the top event —the Super Bowl, for example—and the contempt the visitors have for the city, as seen in their inconsiderate sloppiness.

What should concern those of us who live on the Beach is not the behavior of the Weekenders, but of the Miami Beach cops, who already had become known for their harassment of and rudeness toward Beach residents.  Beach police managed a shootout with one car that resulted in a dead driver and wounded bystanders and cops.  The other shootout with a car lead to a crash that wrecked a policer cruiser and the other car.  It also led to the arrest of the driver, a veteran firefighter, it turns out.

Police should not be firing their pistols at cars anywhere but especially not on crowded streets where the risk of injuring innocent bystanders is great.  It is well documented that Miami Beach cops are lousy shots to begin with.  When you add to that the natural and well documented propensity of people not to fire directly at another person and semi-automatic pistols with ten or more shots in a clip, you have a recipe for mayhem.  And when you top that off with poorly trained cops who don't have the brains to step out of the way of a moving car but instead think they can stop it by standing in its way and firing at the driver, mayhem turns to bloody chaos.  How much easier would it have been to step out of the way of the  car rather taking a stand, gun blazing, as if you were a Soviet-era border guard sworn to prevent someone—anyone—from escaping to freedom?  How hard would it have been to follow the car until it stopped or could be safely stopped and then arrest the driver rather than fire round after round into the car, him and the crowd.

People demanding an  end to this annual gathering might think about why they came this way.  Rather then feeding people's worst instincts, city officials might concentrate on training their police better, starting with the lesson that they serve all the people and ending with the ability to respond intelligently to strange situations—that is without opening fire.   These steps would serve everyone.

But beyond all of that, city officials must make clear to the police that anyone seeking to block a full inquiry will be fired immediately.  Early police attempts to stop people from posting or sharing their videos of the shootings were ham-fisted attempts at censorship that are intolerable. That is the stuff of dictatorships.