Politics: A Walk in the Park That May Cost the Beach Dearly

Harold Strickland was walking home near Flamingo Park on a March night in 2009 when he observed two city cops roughing up another man, lying restrained on the ground.  His decision to intercede netted him his own arrest – later dropped – but may likely net you and me a far greater cost, tax dollar-wise.

That’s because Strickland’s case is now a pending lawsuit in federal court.  The City of Miami Beach is the defendant.  But guess whose wallets will be plucked for monetary damages should the city lose.

Strickland called 911 that night to report two officers beating and kicking their subdued subject, only to be arrested himself by the officers and allegedly get snarled at with anti-gay epithets.

The ACLU, which, in November, filed the suit against the city on Strickland’s behalf, declared, “When police officers become the problem rather than the solution, the City needs to take action.  Strickland fulfilled his civic duty by reporting what he recognized as police misconduct, but as a result he became the subject of verbal abuse and wrongful arrest.”

“The City needs to take action.” A pronouncement that has never been truer than in the two years since Strickland’s fateful walk.

Last week, I called upon City Hall to consider forming a civilian review board, akin to the Civilian Investigative Panel that Miami adopted in 2002 and similar to that which other Florida municipalities – Fort Lauderdale, St. Pete, and Jacksonville, among them – and cities nationwide have adopted.

I called for this in wake of the March 26 video-gone-viral incident on the beach where a crowd numbering about 100 witnessed – and some recorded – MBPD officers toss a woman to the sand and put a man in a choke hold, an incident by no means the worst ever seen, but surely one that, when added to the Strickland case and other more serious cases involving Beach cops in recent memory, calls out for a greater hands-on supervisory role from City Hall and a boldly-delineated civilian oversight entity – board, panel, commission, whatever.

Police can’t be left to investigate themselves through Internal Affairs and – as happened in the March 26 incident – issue a quick absolution to the officers involved, end of matter, with no further review beyond the department.

This, however, is what City Hall is apparently content to allow be done.  And, troublesomely, it has been done in cases where the specter of police overreaction, misconduct, or abuse has appeared.

When I asked him if it wouldn’t be better to allow a CIP, rather than an I.A. unit, to have the last word in any internal investigation, Chief Noriega replied he was “comfortable with the checks and balances I have in place” because the MBPD’s I.A. unit works “closely” with the State Attorney’s Office’s Public Corruptions Unit in any matters involving possible criminal allegations against cops.

All such cases, he asserted, are “independently and objectively reviewed” by the SAO.

The MBPD, said the chief, also works “openly and hand in hand with the community” through the department’s Community Affairs Unit, a City Commission-appointed Police/Community Affairs Committee, and the MBPD’s Citizen Police Academy.

Accountability is a “fundamental requirement in my administration’s organizational philosophy,” declared Noriega, which is “reflected through an increase in disciplinary actions taken against officers proven to have committed an infraction of departmental rules and regulations.”

Transparency is another “fundamental” part of the MBPD, he reported.

But it’s hard to see the transparency in an open-and-shut I.A. review, performed behind closed doors, of the March 26 incident.

And what of those incidents whereas alleged police misconduct does not rise to the level of criminal prosecution – thus, warranting the intervention of the SAO – but still must be addressed and corrected?  Are we to leave those up to the MBPD, to them alone, and trust their discretion?

The SAO isn’t necessarily an unbiased agency.  Their work is tightly interwoven with that of police departments and officers, upon whose cooperation in prosecutions they must often rely.  Thus, their independence and objectivity when investigating cops are not unassailably airtight.

As for the “Community Affairs”-branded set-ups, these are designed more for the purpose of educating citizens about, say, how to establish a neighborhood watch brigade to watch for prowlers rather than as panels to watch over the police’s shoulders and thwack them when they go wrong.

In the end, it isn’t the police but rather their superiors at City Hall who should accept and install appropriate civilian oversight.

More is at stake than law and order, or the preservation of civil liberties, or avoiding costly lawsuits.  No less than the city’s reputation is at stake, particularly its status as a world-class tourist destination.  YouTube vids of incidents like March 26?s cause chambers of commerce to wince and the tourism and hospitality industries to cringe.

Best to avoid future embarrassments – as well as lawsuits – by empaneling a civilian review board now, not after the fact.  Ensuring that good cops are recognized and rewarded and bad ones – and policies – are repudiated and replaced is what such oversight can foster.

If the current administration won’t enact reforms to establish civilian oversight, then it’s hard to argue against a recall of sorts – on this side of the bay – this November, at which time Mayor Bower’s bid for a third term should be wisely scuttled by voters and City Manager Gonzalez ought to do a George Burgess and prudently resign the day thereafter.

Could it be that the current Powers That Be at City Hall are not inclined to pick up the reins they dropped to the ground and steer the runaway horse they were elected to steer?  They may be so myopic they fail to see the potential messes from not doing so.  If that is so, then their neglected responsibility of policing our police will have to be assumed by a new and more astute set of city leaders.  One which recognizes that we shouldn’t have to tolerate avoidable errors by our cops or be saddled with the legal bills incurred by them.  Or risk losing precious business from tourists and conventioneers avoiding our city.

Just how many Strickland cases, with resulting lawsuits, does City Hall require before they learn this lesson?

BOO-TY CALL

The Bronx cheer and the middle finger are fast becoming Floridians’ most popular forms of salute to the new guv.

They booed him when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays’ season opener.  They booed him the next day at a spring parade in Tally, as he strode the parade route.  (Both booings can be viewed online; apparently, booing Slicky Ricky is becoming quite a frequently-posted YouTube category.)

Indeed, we learned last week that Slick’s bang-up job on the state in the mere three months he’s been in Tally has earned him the ignominious distinction of the lowest popularity rating (35%) for a new guv in anyone’s memory.

Hell, it took Dubya till his seventh year in the presidency to drop to a piss-poor number that low.

While Slick may lack the popularity of even a fresh, steaming turd at a housefly convention, his policies and proposals thus far possess all the stenchfully putrid similarities to one.

At this rate, by year’s end, the only supporters left in his column are apt to be his wife and dog.  (I dunno, does he have a dog?  Maybe the dog’s walked out on him.)

Came the reassuring word from Slick this week, at least, that his Solantic clinics won’t be bidding for state contracts, including the drug testing he wants state workers to drop trou for.

Well, whoever is awarded the contract – should it get that far – is going to have a rather murky (and reeking) sample to test, courtesy of a group of Key Westerners who have already “contributed.”

Calling themselves the Committee for Positive Insistence on a Sane Society (or PISS), they gathered to give a “communal, Southernmost urine sample.”

“Our CEO professes to be focusing on cutting wasteful government spending and laying off tens of thousands of state employees,” read their press release, “while at the same time he announces a program to drug test state employees without any legitimate basis for such an invasion of privacy.”

The Conchs’ sample will be kept “under lock and seal” until it can be transported to the state capital.  One local blog suggested they label their gift to the guv “Special Key West-style Lemonade.”

On that note, you’re probably thinking, Gee, Charles, somehow you managed to mention BOTH kinds of excretory activity – and all in the same item.  Is there ANY you left out?

Well, I could have tossed in that Slick ain’t worth a bucket of spit, or that if he thinks he’s doing a good job he can go blow it out his nose.

Guess I ran out of ingenuity.  Oh well.

PEEVE OF THE WEEK

Used to be we had to worry only about attention-diverted idiots on our roadways, texting on their hand-helds instead of remaining focused on that other hand-held – their steering wheel.

Now, what of the idiots walking on the sidewalk, so engrossed in their text gadgets and telephones that they barely bother to see other pedestrians coming toward them?

Look up and watch where you’re going, you inattentive dumbshits!

BERRY GERRY

The Female Running Mates Club’s membership of two was reduced by half with the passing of Geraldine Ferraro, whose historic denting of the glass ceiling preceded Hillary’s hammering of it, and Sarah Palin’s attempt to, by nearly a quarter of a century.

Among the tributes to the first woman on a national ticket, I liked this one (retold by her in her 1985 autobiography and related in this 1984 account in Time, during which Ferraro, on a campaign stop in Mississippi, “even handled a brush with Southern chauvinism with an aplomb worthy of Scarlett O’Hara”):

As the candidates dryly discussed farm issues near a soybean field north of Jackson, the state’s venerable agriculture commissioner, Jim Buck Ross, asked Ferraro if she had ever eaten catfish.

“No,” she replied.

“Then you haven’t lived, young lady,” he said.

The talk turned to blueberries, and the 66-year-old commissioner inquired, “Can you bake a blueberry muffin?”  Ferraro smiled tightly.  “Sure can.”  Slight pause.  “Can you?”  Another pause.  “Down here,” drawled Ross, “the men don’t cook.”

Later Ferraro gamely noted that the next time she visited Mississippi, she would bring blueberry muffins and Ross would treat her to catfish.

“He probably never met a female vice-presidential candidate before,” she commented afterward.

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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