In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Miami Gardens turns blind eye to abusive cops

In Miami Gardens, a city where the innocent are lost to stray bullets or maimed by them at an alarming rate — murders and shootings that remain unsolved — what can citizens expect from their police department?

Grandiose talk from city officials and the police chief about a “zero-tolerance” policy for offenders in this largely black and poor community — and criminal behavior from white police officers.

That’s what we see on a convenience store’s stash of video camera recordings released to the public.

Without cause

Police officers caught violating the most basic rights afforded citizens in the Constitution: arresting people without probable cause; searching premises without a warrant or the owner’s permission, and shaking down customers as they walk in and out of the store.

The behavior of police officers on videos reviewed by the Miami Herald, some of them not yet released to the public, is outrageous.

As detailed in a story by the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown, an officer grabs and shackles store clerk Earl Sampson after he goes outside to take out the garbage. He is arrested for “loitering” in his workplace, on the clock.

Another officer asks to use the bathroom, and instead, rifles like a thief through the store’s backroom shelves and bins.

An officer crudely accosts and humiliates customers entering and leaving the store.Every customer being harassed is black — some of them so poor they ride old bikes to the 207 Quickstop convenience store in the 3100 block of Northwest 207th Street, the only place where they can readily buy goods in their neighborhood.

All the police officers involved are white.

How can a community trust this police department?

Why have cops zeroed in on the convenience store owned by 36-year-old Alex Saleh, who has built a good relationship with his customers but such a terrible one with police that he installed cameras — not to catch shoplifters but to film police harassment?

Those are some of the questions begging to be answered by Miami Gardens Police Chief Matthew Boyd. But it’s not a far stretch to suspect that police are mad at Saleh, who at first signed on to the city’s zero-tolerance program, but after seeing police blatantly violating his customers’ rights, got off the program and took the sign off his window.

In retaliation, a police department has thrown its mighty power against a businessman, his store clerk and his customers.

On the defense

And what’s the reaction of authorities? In Miami Gardens, there’s defensiveness as usual from the mayor and the police chief, who put out a perfunctory press release about serving the community.

From the state attorney’s office and the U.S. Justice Department — agencies that should be launching investigations — there’s unacceptable silence.

What we see in those videos is, plain and simple, abuse of power and violations of civil rights.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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