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Black shootings prompt investigation of Miami police

admin | 11/23/2011, 4:56 a.m.

Evidence prompts U.S. Department of Justice to proceed

Its been well over a year since the first police-involved shooting of a Black man in the Liberty City, Overtown and Little Haiti communities occurred. Since then the number of shootings and deaths has risen to eight Black men. Now after repeated requests from outraged citizens, family members, local clergy, community activists and elected officials, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday, Nov. 17, that theyhave launched a civil investigation into allegations involving the use of excessive deadly force by officers from the City of Miami Police Department (MPD). We regularly determine around the country whether there is a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officials that violates the Constitution or federal law, said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez who heads the Justice Departments civil rights division. He was joined by Miami U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer at the podium during last Thursdays press conference. He added that the investigation would not target individuals but would rather look more broadly at whether there are systemic deficiencies or issues. Perez compared shootings in Miami to two other U.S. urban cities that have large concentrations of Black citizens. His remarks came on the backdrop of Miamis current dilemma since July 2010, MPD officers shot and killed seven young Black men and critically wounded an eighth. New York Citys police, the largest force in the country, had one fatal shooting for every 4,313 officers in 2010, while Miami had one fatal shooting for every 220 officers, Perez said. Washington, D.C., with a larger population and police force, had no fatal shootings by police in 2010, compared to five by the MPD. Perez will speak to an assortment of stakeholders, confer with experts in police practices and review documents from the MPD. He said he has been promised the full support of City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Acting Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa [who took over in September 2011, following the dismissal of former Chief Miguel Exposito].

Will the investigation really make a difference?

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson put pressure on the Justice Department early this year and last April received a response from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch who said the Department was reviewing information that had been forwarded to them. She says she is satisfied at least for now. We are on the right track but I think as things move along, there could be criminal charges brought against some of our citys police officers, she said. Remember, two of the men killed were unarmed. We need a complete overhaul of the police department as its evident they are practicing an overexertion of force. This is systemic within the department and somehow we have to make sure it never returns again. Unfortunately, this problem isnt germane to just Miami in other urban cities we are seeing police who are untrained and ill-prepared to deal with Black communities, shooting first and far too often. Renita Holmes, 49, community advocate and president of WAAIVE (Womens Association and Alliance against Injustice and Violence and for Empowerment said, While we welcome this investigation, we are concerned that the families, the witnesses and the community are still under siege. There are federal officers who were also involved and we arent sure if they will be held accountable for their involvement in these shootings shootings which still remain under investigation by our own states attorney. Rev. Nathaniel J. Wilcox, 57, executive director PULSE; says he is disappointed that it took the death of seven men to get the Justice Department involved. We met with them after the first shooting their delay and slow inaction allowed for more needless shootings and deaths, he said. We hope there will be more than just an investigation into the police departments patterns and practices. The police are supposed to protect and serve instead they are killing our citizens and the majority of the shootings of Blacks have been done by people who were not Black. It should be noted that only one police-involved shooting case has been closed by the state attorneys office, resulting in the clearing of the officer who shot and killed DeCarlos Moore. No weapon was found at the scene. The other men killed by police were: Joell Lee Johnson, Tarnorris Tyrell Gaye, Gibson Junior Belizaire, Brandon Foster, Lynn Weatherspoon and Travis McNeil. Kareem Williams, who was shot on Feb. 11, 2011 along with his friend McNeil, survived. By D. Kevin McNeir kmcneir@miamitimesonline.com