Dennis Moss went there and took a majority of his fellow Miami-Dade County commissioners, plus the mayor, with him. They had the race talk, from the commission dais, no less. It was stunning for its depth and eye-opening — to some — for pain and anger in black commissioners’ personal stories.
The question now is: Will it be galvanizing as a call to action that elected officials, community leaders, business honchos and members of greater Miami’s diverse black communities cannot ignore. That remains to be seen. And shame on all who let that powerful moment pass unheeded.
Praise Commissioner Moss for putting the issue of the enduring inequality that hounds too many blacks in Miami-Dade County squarely on the table. No doubt, his squabble earlier this year with Commissioner Javier Souto about who is responsible for greater Miami’s (unevenly spread) prosperity — Cuban exiles vs. blacks — was still stuck in his craw. But there’s no doubt, either, that he and his black commission colleagues — Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime and Audrey Edmonson — have had, despite their outward success, a very different existence in this town from many of their white Hispanic and non-Hispanic white peers. So have their black constituents.
Credit, too, the other commissioners and the mayor who stayed to listen on Wednesday night and, it is hoped, learn.
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The shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, blasted away by a white police officer spurred the conversation. Miami-Dade has seen similar incidents. But black commissioners’ comments about lack of employment, police harassment and being locked out of county contracts came down to two words that can sum up black residents’ life in this so-called world-class city: shunned and disrespected.
This speaks so poorly of this community that it’s amazing that elected officials remain blissfully complacent.
Given that this all was laid at Mayor Gimenez’s doorstep, it presents an opportunity for him to be far more of a leader here. To go beyond his comment, “I know there are big problems in the African-American community, and I’m doing everything I can to alleviate them.” Fine, set public benchmarks for black participation in county projects so that the county knows whether it’s close to the target each year. Bill Johnson, former head of PortMiami, set a stellar example during tunnel construction. It’s time for the mayor to be more of a visionary in helping ensure economic access.
Local police chiefs must look closely at their policies that encourage officers to make those degrading driving-while-black traffic stops. Yes, it happens here, with anecdotes citing municipalities from Miami Shores to Miami Beach to far too many others. Go after suspected criminals, not city residents coming home from work. Follow Mr. Gimenez’s lead and equip officers with body cameras.
It’s a loud and clear call, too, to African-American families in many communities to take seriously the eradication of low academic achievement, of criminal behavior, of low expectations that, though not exclusive to their communities, have the deepest repercussions. Breaking the hold of these scourges can only help break the hold of poverty and hopelessness.
Last week’s commission discussion on race is over. But it should be the beginning of a community-wide conversation and a call to action.