Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Ferguson familiar terrain for Miami

Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, wearing sunglasses, reacts as she listens to the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests.
Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, wearing sunglasses, reacts as she listens to the announcement of the grand jury decision Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked sometimes violent protests. AP

Emotions over a justice system that fails to find any criminal wrong-doing when a white police officer pumps six bullets into an unarmed black teen are running raw in Miami, too.

There’s outrage, sorrow, and despair over the killing of Michael Brown, the lack of an indictment, and the sight of another smoldering American city.

“You have a young man who can’t wake up tomorrow and kiss the sunshine,” 43-year-old Miami lawyer Marlon A. Hill tells me Tuesday, the day after a grand jury found no cause to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of the 18-year-old. “Even though it’s happening in Ferguson, my sense is that colored folks across the country and across the world are looking at themselves, at their families — particularly those raising boys – and thinking, ‘This could happen to me next week.”

Ferguson is familiar terrain.

This community has seen young black men killed by white police officers in questionable circumstances — and no justice to be found in the courts. This community still has old wounds from the Arthur McDuffie case in 1979 and the not-guilty verdict a year later, and of the deadly riots that ensued. This community knows the troubling findings of a Justice Department investigation of Miami police that concluded the department used excessive force.

“And, why does it need to keep happening?” Hill asks.

True, during the past 30 years caring people have rolled up their sleeves and come together to work on race relations, but we’re not immune from the strife rocking Ferguson.

Trayvon Martin,17, was a Miami son and he was pursued and shot dead in a Central Florida community by a man who thought him suspicious and out of place.

He’s less well-known, but 28-year-old Travis McNeil was unarmed yet shot dead during a 2011 traffic stop in Miami — becoming the seventh black man killed by Miami police in a span of seven months. Two of those men were unarmed.

No matter how proud we are of our multi-racial, multi-ethnic city, there’s still a black and white divide, a class divide, and a political divide – and black men here, too, see themselves and their children as vulnerable to racial stereotyping and early deaths.

Our diversity is our strength but it’s not a vaccine against prejudice.

“One of the points people don’t want to confront is that, despite gains made in racial progress, etc., there’s still an emotional baggage for folks who are black that no one else has to deal with,” Hill says. “We are not six degrees away from those tinder issues. We still embody the same and similar frustrations, violence that happens for one reason or another, and we have confrontation from law enforcement... We have inequality that is wider than ever."

As young people protest in solidarity in front of Miami’s courthouse, however, Hill points to a meaningful historic marker for Miami blacks: the election of the first Haitian-American, Jean Monestime, as chairman of the County Commission.

“That does give a glimmer of hope that you are valued and included in the power structure,” Hill says.

But what echoes louder is hurt: “All we want is to live our lives without our very presence being a threat.”

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