Miami-Dade County

South Florida police and their supporters rally behind the men and women in blue

Hundreds gather at the Torch of Friendship at Bayside in downtown Miami on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, to honor NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were gunned down Dec. 20.
Hundreds gather at the Torch of Friendship at Bayside in downtown Miami on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014, to honor NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were gunned down Dec. 20. EL NUEVO HERALD

With community tensions high and the killing of two New York City police officers fresh on their minds, hundreds of local cops rallied Monday night at the Torch of Friendship near Bayside Marketplace, showing their support for fellow officers near and far.

The Defenders motorcycle club roared down Biscayne Boulevard with “NYPD” painted on their windshields. Family members of police officers lined the sidewalk, waving signs that said, “I love cops.” Bagpipes blared as the names of officers killed in the line of duty were read.

Doug Cohen, a retired NYPD and Davie police officer, came in his uniform. He posed for pictures with strangers. Cohen said he came with a group of retired New York cops.

“We couldn’t miss something like this. It’s too important,” he said. “All over the country, people are demonstrating against the police.”

Organized by the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, the rally took place at the same location where protesters have gathered to decry recent police killings of black men, most notably Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, who died after New York City police put him in a chokehold to subdue him.

On Monday, police came out to support each other and to honor Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, the New York City police officers who were gunned down Dec. 20 as they sat in their patrol car on a Brooklyn street.

Javier Ortiz, president of the Miami FOP union, blamed “anti-law enforcement sentiment” for their deaths.

“While many politicians have focused on the lack of trust between the police and minorities, what really needs to be addressed are the issues of poverty, unemployment and education that creates a set of circumstances that breeds crime,” Ortiz said to applause. “The notion that police have to build trust with the community is no longer the only issue. The community must act now to build trust with our police officers.”

After Ortiz read the names of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, supporters wrote the names of every police officer killed in Florida on white paper bags — 778 in total, Ortiz said. They placed blue glow sticks into the bags and lined them down busy Biscayne Boulevard.

Margi Valuikas took two bags: one for her and one for a friend. Valuikas said her partner is an intelligence analyst for Miami-Dade County police. The deaths of Liu and Ramos have left Valuikas and her partner searching for answers.

“Those were two innocent men who didn’t need to die,” the 50-year-old retiree said. “When we sit down and talk at night, we just can’t believe what’s going on.”

Lisa Patino came from Davie to honor her brother, who is an officer in Sunrise. Before the sunset, she held a sign above her head that said: “We support law enforcement.”

“I think it’s important for the community to show solidarity. They are giving the ultimate sacrifice in some cases, and I’m here to honor that,” the 35-year-old educator said.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado was on hand to show his support. He acknowledged the city’s own painful history: seven black men were killed by police between July 2010 and February 2011. But, he said Miami has made strides in its policing and he praised Miami’s police department as a diverse representation of the community.

“We have seen many many rallies that, rightly so, denounce some killings throughout the United States,” Regalado said. “There might be a perception that it’s about all police forces. And [it’s] not. The city of Miami has a clean record for the last three years and a half.”

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.