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The results: "After George Floyd now what?"

Miami, FL  |  June 22, 2020 6:00am  |  By Bob Oliva

In the beginning of the 18th century, several groups of African slaves escaped from the northern British colonies and took refuge in Northern Florida. The Spaniards who had little work for them would free them on one condition, if they converted to Roman Catholicism. They settled in what became the first settlement of free slaves in North America which is now Fort Mose Historic Park, just two miles north of St. Augustine.

Miami’s black community has played a pivotal role in the history of Miami. It was instrumental in Miami’s incorporation in 1896, with 162 black citizens signing the city’s charter in order to reach the number of male voters (368) needed to form a new city. In fact, the first name on the city’s charter was Silas Austin, a local black resident. The black community included Overtown and Coconut Grove, which happens to be the oldest inhabited neighborhood in Miami.

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In the early 1900s and once known during the Jim Crow segregation era as Colored Town, Overtown was the home to major entertainers who performed at Miami Beach but were not allowed to stay there. After riding back to the main land, entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole would also perform at popular Overtown music clubs like the Lyric Theater, Harlem Square Club, and the Cotton Club. Dana A. Dorsey, who was South Florida’s first African American millionaire, was instrumental in the development of Overtown, and later sold what it now the most affluent US zip code (Fisher Island) to Carl G. Fisher who was developing Miami Beach.

In the 1960s, to much disapproval from the community, city leaders moved forward with the construction of I-95 and 395 which displaced the center of Overtown, bulldozing large tracks of homes dislocating thousands in the black community and decimating businesses in the neighborhood. Needless to say, the population shrank by an estimated 75% and if you attend any Miami Heat games, the parking lots for the Miami Arena that stretch along 2nd Avenue is where the ghosts of great music from the Rockland Palace and the Cotton Club still play.

The challenges of Miami’s black community have been numerous, from living free under Spain, to surviving the Confederates and Jim Crow, to the present evolution of Miami as a multilingual international hub. Black Miami has had to constantly find its place in the ever-evolving Miami landscape.

Fast forward to 2020 and Lizzie Buchen, ACLU criminal justice director, is telling Forbes: “When you have an officer with 17 misconduct complaints, including a brutality lawsuit, you wouldn’t be paying his salary and his pension,” about Derek Chauvin, the officer that kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes. “The root of the problem is there are too many police. It’s not that they shouldn’t have computers, or we need to cut their salaries, it’s that they shouldn’t be employed,” Buchen added. “They are over-surveilling and over-policing black and brown communities; they are getting involved in situations that they do not need to be involved in. We did not need four officers engaging with someone who was accused of nothing more than a $20 forgery.” 

So, as Malcom Gladwell would probably ask, is George Floyd the tipping point? Is this the event that makes us realize that change must come? 

We put this to our Power Poll members and several interesting points came forward.

What do the recurrence of these events mean in our society?

The results are that we need to change our social and professional outlook on race (60%) and that the police departments need to operate at a higher more professional level (25%) with better supervision and training.

 

 

We then asked if the Floyd event impacted their outlook on race relations.

 

The short answer is that these latest events have impacted 90%, with 45% very much and 45% somewhat, with only 10% not being impacted at all.

The cry to defund the police departments is a wide-net approach that will mean different things to different groups and city councils. Take the city of Camden, New Jersey where the level of violence was compared to El Salvador in a 2017 New York Times article. In this case, the so-called defunding looks more like a corporate restructuring, when for budgetary reasons it disbanded the police department and created a community department where “de-escalation” was the backbone of training. In addition, they were able to meet budget by replacing unionized +$182,000 officers with new non-unionized officers for almost half the previous budget. By the end of 2017, the new strategy had cut violent crime significantly and was celebrated in many public sectors. Is this the solution to the present situation?

So, we asked what does “defunding the police” mean? Clearly it does not mean abolishing the police entirely which did not receive a single vote.

What they clearly believe in is that raising the professional level of police work is a must by diversifying the police department with social services professionals like psychologists and social workers (50%), demilitarize it (25%), and requiring officers to get recertified every five years (25%), just like in other professions.

On the question if incidents within the police department should be investigated by an independent third party?

 

A majority (77%) believe that just like any other public government department, the police department needs outside objective investigations to be transparent. Only 9% believe that investigations should be kept internal and 15% are undecided.

A 2015 Harvard Review article cited that New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) from 2008 to 2013 found a disproportionate number of complaints when compared to the demographic makeup of the population. African Americans that represent 23% of the city’s population then represented 55% of reported complaints and Hispanics which were 29% of the population made up 26% of complainants, while whites were 34% of the population but were only 9% of complaints.

In 2018, Phoenix, AZ saw a record number of police involved shootings in the city and amid calls to defund the police, decided to fund it but also included in the budget the creation on a Citizens Review Board made up of civilians that will investigate incidents involving the police. While the Board will have civilians investigating police incidents, the Chief of Police will still have the authority for any disciplinary actions. The vote was a tight one (5-4) but the decision was made after the National Police Foundation reviewed the 2018 records and proposed two models of a Citizens Boards to the Council. Councilman Carlos Garcia who led the effort told local CBS affiliate "The important thing - is going to be implemented and making sure that we get this done right," 

Councilmember Sal DiCiccio, who was not in agreement, noted that “This is the most radical, extremist anti-police plan in the whole damn country,” DiCiccio added. “It is going to destroy the morale of our police department and put our public in danger.”

So, do they agree with the Phoenix City Council to do something similar in Miami-Dade? 

With the latest events impacting the present environment, they agreed unanimously to the establishment of a civilian board with (72%) voting for a board that has power to take action, and a minority (28%) wanting a board with investigative but not further power to take action.

There has been some movement at the Miami-Dade County Commission regarding the Floyd event. This past Tuesday June 16th the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed by a 9-4 vote Commissioner Barbara Jordan’s proposal for the establishment of an oversight board which was vetoed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez in 2018. The 2018 proposed board would be made up of community groups, which Gimenez opposed. The new proposal will have Commissioners appoint members to the board which is more in line with Gimenez's thinking. Gimenez told the Miami Herald “I vetoed it because I didn’t want just representation from special interest groups, it has to be made up of people from the community, all of the community.” In regards as to what kind of authority or influence the oversight board will have is still not clear.

Tim Lynch, Director of the Cato Institute project on criminal justice, said in an interview with PBS “I tend to be skeptical of the track record of civilian review boards, I think they have several weaknesses — they’re very vulnerable to local political manipulations.” He went on to point out that they need to have the trust of both the local political and law enforcement leadership in order to make it work. You simply cannot investigate if those that are being investigated are not willing to trust the process.

The other side of reality is that most police departments are facing challenges in recruiting and retaining talent. A 2018 study by the North Carolina Criminal Justice Analysis Center found an attrition rate (14%) above both the nursing and teaching professions. The pool of available qualified candidates is shrinking due to, in addition to the physical and mental requirements, the challenges from other more attractive and less precarious careers. Consider that, according to the 2019 FBI report, 89 police officers lost their lives in line-of-duty incidents.

So, the last fourteen days have been a paranormal experience in Miami with the partial opening of the business community in an effort to get back to normalcy, whatever that means, while the continual increase of COVID-19 cases, the demonstrations that shut down the Downtown corridor including I-95, the marches and looting, and let’s not forget the defacing of the Christopher Columbus and Ponce De Leon statues.  

A more levelheaded response came from the professional sports sector. Ex-football great John Elway told the Associated Press, “Listening to players and reading their social media, the strength they have shown and the experiences they have shared has been powerful. It has impacted me. I realize I have a long way to go, but I will keep listening and learning,” the Stanford graduate Elway who is the Denver Broncos General Manager added. “That is the only way to grow. I truly believe a lot of good will come from the many difficult conversations that are taking place around our team, league and country.”

So, in keeping with Elway’s glass-is-half full vision, we asked who is best positioned to lead the changes?    

It was an interesting exercise but clearly 61% believe that it must be driven by the Mayors (35%) and the Governor (26%) with support from the White House, local community and businesses leadership. Bottom line is that the State and local governments are the solution since they respond to the local idiosyncrasies and needs of the 34 local communities that make up Miami-Dade County. 

Our final question was meant to get a feel of what the Power Poll members thought of a solution. We do live in a challenging environment where the international with most living east of the highway rarely cross with the local economy which mostly lives west of the highway. The challenge in a multilingual international hub that makes Miami what it is, adds to the complexity and challenges for those that want to live here.

Not surprisingly, investing in urban schools was the top investment (62%) with undecided at (19%) and funding for local businesses to hire locals observing the community diversity make up (18%). 

In conclusion, most were impacted by the latest events and they see a need to raise the level of professionalism in the police department with the inclusion of professional social services. They also see a need to build trust between the community and law enforcement by employing independent third-party reviews and a civilian oversight board that will have some level of authority. They see the need for leadership being provided by all four levels of government but mostly from the local Mayors and the state Governor's office. As far as investments to address and strengthen the law enforcement-local community relationship, investing additional funds in urban schools received 64% while additional funding for the justice system got only 4%.

Thanks to those that participated for your input and I'm looking forward to our July Power Poll.

Best, and stay safe,

Bob Oliva

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