Growing up as the significant elder of two younger brothers, it is striking to see the precautions my parents take to raise the two young, black men even in the 21st century. Even more disturbing is that for the black community there exist a common hyper-awareness of appropriate conduct in the presence of police. There is a universal understanding that black men shouldn’t run anywhere on the street for fear of police suspicion. My mother once told my brother never to believe that in the case of an altercation that police would let him go because he was “a nice kid.”
“They will slam your head on the cop car because you’re practically guilty until proven innocent,” she said. She explained to them, as many people believe, that black men cannot own large or luxury vehicles without the risk of becoming victim to racial profiling. Both of my brothers are under the age of fifteen.
It seemed difficult at first to believe that the police in Miami would engage in blatant, unacceptable, or racially-charged behavior considering the city’s hailed diversity. One of the four-pronged objectives of the Miami-Dade Police Department, according to the department’s government webpage, is to treat all people with respect through demonstrating an “understanding of ethnic and cultural diversity.” In fact, it would be difficult to authentically achieve the three other stated values of integrity, service and fairness without cultural understanding of the county’s diverse communities. However, the MDPD’s recent history of targeting a specific minority population does not uphold the standards they seek to meet.
The MDPD has led a legion of fatal attacks on black men, which may conjure the names of fallen men like DeCarlos Moore, Travis McNeil and Raymond Herrise. The recent arrest of a fourteen-year-old Tremaine McMillian for giving officers “dehumanizing stares” after verbal reprimand, only further validates the racially-charged persecution of black males that seems to be deeply imprinted in the county’s law enforcement agencies.
McMillian was roughhousing with another child on Haulover Beach this May but it was his body language while he was walking away that prompted police to “neutralize the threat” the teen caused by attacking and detaining him. The 2011 death of Raymond Herrise, who fell victim to over one-hundred bullets fired at his vehicle, was induced by what police officers say was a posed threat in a speeding car. Herrise’s car was actually at rest, according to footage from the incident, before several police shot and killed the man and injured four bystanders.
Community outcries of frustration at the MDPD’s questionably racist practices landed the department with a civil-rights investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice late 2011.
But often overlooked by the MDPD’s plausible police stereotyping, a violation of civil rights that is still undergoing examination, is a critical component of the violence that police have taken on the very citizens they seek to protect: fear. A fear, often noted, that is unsupported by physical evidence or substantial reason; a fear that can most easily be described as rooted in an obvious lack of “understanding and cultural diversity.”
The message that the MDPD sends to the black community is hardly one of respect when their services include the scrutiny and persecution of black males.
With populations of racial minorities on the rise, incidents of targeted police brutality need to come to an end. It is impossible, ineffective and ultimately futile for a police force to adequately serve a community that they fail to understand. Officers should be educated on the history of police relationships with black people in efforts to understand the pain that shapes common perception about law enforcement. This is important because the history of police brutality in the black community is not exclusively the story of black people – it is a shared past of both parties. If police officers could first learn about the concerns of the people, then they could take the appropriate steps to actually perform their jobs.
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