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.

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