From his hospital bed, North Miami Beach Police Officer Lino Diaz had a message to the hundreds of people who gathered at Tropical Park on Sunday for the Support Our Police Ride and Rally: “I will recover soon and be back battling evil again.”
Diaz, 47, was shot in the arm and leg Friday during a joint investigation into unemployment fraud. He was serving a warrant at a home when he came under fire.
His friend and former co-worker at the North Miami police department, Enrique Santos — the host of the syndicated Enrique Santos Show on Mix 98.3 FM — happened to be in the lineup of speakers for the event, which brought more than 600 motorcycle riders, dozens of officers from different municipalities including Miami-Dade, Coral Gables, Medley, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and Monroe County, and hundreds of other people together to support law enforcement.
Santos said he thought calling Diaz was a good way to “lift his spirits and send him positive energy.” So he dialed Diaz’s hospital room at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he is recovering. He gave a cue to the crowd, and everyone shouted, “We love you Lino!”
Sunday’s rally, which came together in a little under a month, was a way to “do something pro-police,” said John Rivera, Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association president.
“There has been a lot of negativity against police lately, and we have been hearing for a while that we should do something positive,” he said. “Officers like [Diaz] put their lives on the line every day.”
In recent months, there has been a swell of anti-police demonstrations across the country after two police officers — one in Missouri and one in New York — were not indicted after killing black men.
In South Florida, hundreds of protestors blocked major thoroughfares during Art Basel and Winterfest Boat Parade. Recently, a group protested after it was learned that North Miami Beach snipers shot at pictures of black men during training. That practice has since been suspended.
Together with Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose Pepe Diaz, the PBA reached out to sponsors and got the motorcycle community on board. The ride and rally was twofold: raise money for the families of fallen officers and have a community-friendly event to bring people together.
“These people go to work every day and don’t know if they are coming home,” the commissioner said. “We need to show our appreciation.”
More than 200 riders from the Cartel Baggers joined in for the ride. Among the sponsors, the $20-per-person ride fee, the sale of shirts and the cut from food vendors, Ralph Torres, the co-owner of the motorcycle shop, the Cartel Baggers, estimates the event will raise more than $100,000.
“People look at motorcycle clubs as outlaws, but we are good people who want to support the people that keep us safe,” Torres said.
At the park, children played in bounce houses, families munched on snacks from food trucks and DJs kept the music flowing. Former pro athletes including Dolphins players Nat Moore and Dick Anderson came in to lend their support.
“It’s important for me to give back to a community that has given me so much,” said Anderson, who was part of the 1972 perfect-season team. “Police officers risk their lives for us.”
Families of fallen officers then led a solemn procession into the police memorial garden, where Rivera led a brief ceremony to remember those killed in the line of duty, which also included a helicopter flyover.
For Miami-Dade Officer Chris Hodges, Sunday’s event was “overwhelming.” Hodges, who is a 19-year Miami-Dade police veteran, lost his father, Thomas Hodges, who was also a Miami-Dade police officer, in 1976. The late Hodges was working an auto-theft detail when he and his two partners were shot and killed.
Chris Hodges was only 4 at the time, and his brother, who shares a name with his late father and is also a police officer, was 6 years old. They also had a 19-month-old sister.
“My life forever changed on April 1, 1976. I remember feeling empty and missing things as I grew up, he said. “The man I called father was not coming home. This is what every police officer fears as they leave every day and leave their family behind. Memories are all I have as a survivor and sometimes it’s all I have to get me through my day.”
Hodges left everyone with a challenge:
“Let us not just honor those that made the ultimate sacrifice. Let us honor those who continue to sacrifice daily.”