MIAMI (CBS4) – Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito, who has been under fire following a number officer involved shootings, has joined forces with community leaders to help deliver a simple message.
Stop the violence.
On Wednesday, reverends from area churches and community activists flanked Exposito when they announced the new “Preachers, Parents and Police Program” during a news conference at 10 a.m. at the corner of NW 18th Avenue and 54th Street.
Those in attendance included Reverend Carl Johnson, Pastor of the 93rd Street Community Missionary Baptist Church, Georgia Jones-Ayres, executive director of the Alternative Program, Reverend Gaston Smith, Pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and members of the African American Council of Christian Clergy (AACCC).
Members of the City of Miami Police Department were also in attendance.
The aim of the initiative is to help police reduce the violence in the inner city neighborhoods, reduce the instances of black-on-black crime and help get the guns off the streets. Another goal of the program is to provide alternatives to incarceration.
“It has been a constant problem in our community, however, we have not given up to put corrective action in place to finally bring crime not ultimately to an end but to curtail it,” Johnson said.
Over a seven-month period between July 2010 and February of this year, Miami police have shot and killed seven African-American men, at least two of whom were unarmed.
Exposito said he is keeping his word on his commitment to the community.
“When I came in knowing what the past was like I made a commitment to this community that I would do every thing I could to reduce the incidents of violent crime in this community,” he said.
The program has been in the works since July and for months the has been at odds with community leaders over the police-involved shootings.
DeCarlos Moore was shot and killed July 5, 2010. The police union called the shooting justified. They said Moore disobeyed an order not to return to his vehicle. When he rushed back to his car to retrieve something, rookie Miami Police Officer Joseph Marin thought it was a gun. Marin shot and killed Moore. No weapon was found on Moore.
Lynn Weatherspoon, 27, was shot and killed on New Year’s Eve in Overtown. Police at the time said he was a felon with a long rap sheet who was shot after drawing his pistol on officers.
Last August, 21-year-old Gibson Junior Belizaire was shot during a gun battle following a domestic call. Police say he fired at them several times after his car stopped and there was a foot chase.
Travis McNeil, 28, was the seventh person shot and killed. It happened just blocks away from the “Take One Lounge” near 75th St. and Miami Ave. at 11 p.m. on February 10th. McNeil was with his 30-year-old cousin, Kareem Williams, who was also wounded. McNeil was shot as he reached for something in his car during a traffic stop. No weapon was found on McNeil.
The series of shootings created new tensions in the Overtown, Little Haiti, and Liberty City neighborhoods, and caused a political firestorm at City Hall.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson has asked the U.S. Justice Department to open a civil rights probe. Wilson is concerned that black suspects are treated with greater violence than those of other races.
The U.S. Attorney’s office is investigating to determine if the shootings were justified.
But the united front Wednesday is considered by some as a gesture of good will and a willingness to work together to fight crime.
“Our aim has always been reconciliation with the community and the police department we are not anti-cops and we’re not anti-community,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to bridge the gap and this group has been doing that since July. We’re not talking about firing and fighting. we’re talking about trying to find favor and give facts to bring about a positive community, and also forgiveness.”
Meanwhile, a Miami police officer involved in two of those shootings was arrested and fired on unrelated charges.