Before landing the job of Ferguson, Missouri’s police chief last week, Miami Police Maj. Delrish Moss — a kid from Overtown — found himself retelling the story of how he became a cop because of a bad experience with a white officer.
It happened in the days after Miami’s 1980 Arthur McDuffie riots, which erupted after the black insurance salesman was beaten to death by white Miami-Dade officers. Maj. Moss says he was walking home from work when Miami police officers stopped him in the street. One pushed him up against a wall and frisked him — for no good reason — and then called Moss the N-word before speeding off.
“I was embarrassed and scared,” Maj. Moss told the Miami Herald. “I decided I needed to become a police officer to teach these people how to treat people. Also, I hoped to become his boss and fire the guy.”
Now, as Maj. Moss, 51, closes out his 32-year career with Miami police, he is jumping into the top law-enforcement job in a city as challenged by racial tensions as Miami was in the early 1980s when Maj. Moss joined the department. The McDuffie riots forced Miami police — and other local departments — to transform themselves, which, over the decades, they have done with varying degrees of success.
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Ferguson, still recovering from the violence that erupted over the 2014 killing of an African-American teen, Michael Brown, 18, by a white officer, needs to do the same — and Maj. Moss, an exceptional hire, is absolutely the right person to lead the way.
Assigned to work with the community and the media, Maj. Moss did a lot of explaining for the Miami police department throughout his career — and he did so artfully.
When Miami officers went on a spree of questionable fatal shootings of young black men, prompting a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, Maj. Moss, as the department’s public face had to field questions from the media and his own community. He always did it with heart, a cool demeanor and class.
During the months-long Elián Gonzalez saga of 2000, he was often seen on national television answering security questions.
Again in 2005, when Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. shot and killed himself in the lobby of the old Miami Herald building, Maj. Moss guided the massive media coverage.
There have also been the multiple murders, woundings of police officers, serial rapists and abandoned children he’s had to comment on.
At a crime scene, he made a point to talk to kids. He comforted victims and relatives; he calmed them; he helped get them help.
But here’s who truly loves Maj. Moss: the local media. “Call Delrish” is a frequent refrain heard in any Miami newsroom. While other police departments sometimes clamp down when things go awry, Miami’s Maj. Moss has always been there to explain. He never treated the media like nuisances.
For sure, Ferguson, with a majority-white police force that has a fractured relationship with a majority African-American town, desperately needs Maj. Moss’ mediating touch.
For Miami, the departure of the most recognizable law-enforcement officer in the county leaves a community-relations vacuum. Right now, Maj. Moss’ boss, Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes, would do well to heighten his visibility.
We thank Maj. Moss and wish him the best of luck. Ferguson could not have done better than to “call Delrish.”