The NAACP has called for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Miami Gardens Police Department. The organization is right to be concerned, and the DOJ should step in. Given what looks like the abusive behavior by several officers toward people frequenting a convenience store, an outside look is definitely warranted. The police chief’s abrupt resignation on Wednesday makes clear that all is not well in the department.
Miami Gardens is the third-largest city in Miami-Dade County, and relatively young. Its working- and middle-class residents want to live in peace and safety like anyone else. But the city has been especially challenged by the fact that the rates of both violent and nonviolent crime have doubled in three years. Many of the perpetrators come from outside the city.
The recent toll has been horrific, and includes 12-year-old girl Tequila Forshee, shot to death in her home. Many residents rightly support police measures that clamp down on both the small-time troublemakers and vicious gang-bangers who shoot little girls.
Many say that some of the people who hang out around the convenience store are part of the problem. In fact, its owner, Alex Saleh, initially sought the police department’s help, signing a zero-tolerance agreement that gave police free rein to make arrests as they saw fit in order to bring a measure of security to the area.
Which calls into the question why some officers are fighting crime by arresting a store employee more than 60 times while he stocks shelves at the convenience store. Or harassing a frail-looking woman, spilling out the contents of her purse. Or handcuffing an elderly man and rifling through his pockets.
All this was caught on video by cameras at the store. The line between arresting people involved in criminal activity and harassing people going about their business is not that thin. But some officers appear to have crossed it time and again. City leaders should not be reluctant to add their voices to the request for outside intervention. They would fail their constituents by doing any less.
The police department has a difficult birth in this newish city, which relied on Miami-Dade officers before establishing its own department. Certified officers came from other municipalities. Few, if any, homegrown Miami Gardens residents went through the police academy, something Mayor Oliver Gilbert is looking to change. That, too, is a good call. Of course, an officer’s integrity should not depend on where he or she is from.
Something else is aiding and abetting the criminals in some Miami Gardens neighborhoods: Many residents’ understandable fear to speak up and speak out about what they know. No doubt, the people poised to retaliate often come bearing guns. But residents should heed the words of Councilman Andre Williams, who asked last month in the South Florida Times: “Why is there silence? We should be screaming from the rooftops about this and demanding action and change.
“Crime is a law-enforcement issue but, even more importantly, it’s a social issue. We have to engage our young people and teach them accountability, responsibility and a strong sense of purpose and value.”
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle says that there are ways to offer protection to witnesses. With children being shot to death as their grandma braids their hair, fed-up residents should take her up on the offer.