To Miami Beach Police Maj. Angel Vasquez and Capt. Alex Carulo, the racist and sexist and pornographic emails that they blasted out to their colleagues on the force were a big joke. But to the city of Miami Beach, the grinning hostility of those messages are a disgrace, and an embarrassing disservice to a community that rightfully prides itself on being tolerant and home to a diverse population.
Absolutely, positively no one should be shocked at what these and other officers did. Obviously, members of the police force were in on it; and administrators up the the highest levels are creatures of this sorry aspect of police culture that too often is tacitly tolerated. It was just a matter of when we’d find out. At this point, it’s pretty much to be expected, whether on the Beach or in police departments across the country — even in touchy-feely San Francisco.
The emails of racial slurs and nude women were intellectually worthy of immature, middle-school students — “juvenile behavior and locker room mentality,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle called it. She released the emails on Thursday.
However, the behavior goes beyond juvenile, and crosses over into potential danger. These mean-spirited jokesters carry guns; they have say-so over who walks away from a minor violation and who ends up handcuffed and slammed on the hood of a car. In all likelihood, their dehumanizing beliefs — against African Americans, women, illegal immigrants — didn’t stop when they hit “Send.” They went out on duty with the officer.
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And, as police actions across the country are under white-hot scrutiny for their aggressive and violent outcomes, particularly in African-American communities, such emails are the tip of a deep and destructive iceberg. In Fort Lauderdale, where officers were fired in March for sending racist text messages, the city has hired consultants to assess department procedures and to suggest improvements to its community policing efforts.
Fort Lauderdale’s willingness to dig deeper into what ails the police department speaks well of administrators and their understanding that when rogue and racist police officers are on the street, they are not making crime-weary communities of color safer, they are simply alienating the very people they need to help them get criminals off the street.
Other South Florida departments are not immune and, too, should confront the abuse of authority that officers are unleashing. Jim DeFede, of Herald news partner CBS 4, has presented an excellent, and horrifying, look what Miami-Dade Police can mete out when they are in a “joking” mood. In his series Race Matters: Policing by the Numbers, Mr. DeFede describes how undercover officers took Tannie Burke, 21, on a ride one night. The officers didn’t like that Mr. Burke’s stepfather videotaped their encounter with young African-American men standing near a marijuana cigarette on the ground, Mr. Burke among them. Officers left him miles from his house, in South Dade. It took him quite a while to get home. Mr. Burke is blind.
Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates inherited a lot of this nasty mess, and where his predecessor, Ray Martinez, shrugged it off, Chief Oates last week called it a “failure of accountability and leadership.” He’s nailed it. And now that he has said all the right things, Chief Oates — and those South Florida police chiefs who have been turning a blind eye to racism in the ranks — have a duty to show us what leadership and accountability look like.