America’s urban cores have, in many cases, been abandoned by the powerful, dissected by highways that destroy a feeling of community and neglected in the apportionment of educational opportunities. The combination of external neglect and internal dysfunction has engendered explosive conditions — an undercurrent of anger that is easily made into a combustible mixture by the use of deadly force, typically involving a white police officer and a black citizen.
City leaders wishing to avoid the kind of civil unrest experienced by Miami in 1980 and 1989 must be attentive to both the underlying, economic conditions and the triggering incidents that seem to light the fuse, provoking unrest and confrontation between established authority and the minority community.
Government can contribute enormously to the process of inclusion by reforming itself, as Miami did in the 1990s, when the city, the county and the School Board were propelled, by judicial process and the threat thereof, into single-member-district composition.
Police officers need to improve how they interact with both the criminal element and law-abiding citizens. Beyond sensitivity training and inclusion of minorities in the higher echelons of the police, there are now tools that can be used to monitor and prevent the use of deadly force by police.
What if the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was wearing a body camera? Indeed, what if the officers who have been involved in the several recent police shootings and other controversial incidents in our own communities had been wearing body cameras? The tensions from those shootings have not entirely subsided and, unfortunately, sooner or later, other deadly controversial encounters with the police, especially in minority communities, will occur.
Shall we wait until then to wring our hands and try to figure where the truth lies?
Most police officers do not need body cameras to document their professionalism, but a few do. The presence of the camera will moderate their behavior when it is inappropriate. Another reason that body cameras make sense is that they protect the police officer from unfair allegations. Even good officers can get caught up in controversial circumstances where the community sees one thing and the police see another. The camera will always provide the “documentation.”
The police chief in Daytona, where the police have worn body cameras since 2011, has said that the presence of those cameras has already prevented incidents in his city from mushrooming into racial confrontations. In Miami-Dade, we have already given preliminary budget approval to police cameras. While all the details have not yet been worked out, it behooves us to at least try the technology.
Monitoring police conduct is hardly the only obligation of government — though it is the most pressing and obvious. Government also has a role in promoting solutions to the long-term disparity in living conditions that is plaguing the nation as a whole, and the urban cores in a special way.
Miami-Dade has fared worse than the nation as a whole in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Our joblessness has hovered a full percentage point above the national average. And the joblessness among minority youth approaches the 50-percent mark. For those who are not exceptional in sports or academics, or who have a family-owned business, the road out of poverty is blocked by lower quality public education and limited job opportunities.
Local government must provide summer jobs for inner-city youth. It is also incumbent on the county and city to redouble efforts to incentivize affordable housing and expand the public workforce with entry-level jobs, while reducing the ranks of the overpaid managerial class.
Miami-Dade County and the cities within it are embarking on no less than $10 billion of capital improvements (water and sewer bonds, School Board and JMH bond issues, a new convention center and about $2 billion still left from the 2004 general-obligation bond).
The African-American community needs to have a fair share of those projects, at both the employment and entrepreneurial level. Otherwise, we cannot call ourselves a government for all the people.
Marvin Dunn is an associate professor of psychology at FIU. He is the author of “Black Miami in the Twentieth Century” and co-authored “The Miami Riot of 1980: Crossing the Bounds.” Xavier L. Suarez represents District 7 on the Miami-Dade Commission.