MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Leaders in law enforcement across South Florida blasted the actions of Minneapolis police officers on Friday after the death of a man who was in custody and on the same day that one officer was arrested for murder in that case.
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina told CBS4’S Peter D’Oench, “We need to step up and say it like we see it. My eyes are wide open. We are all suffering from this. It was horrific to see this. The callousness that was displayed. This is certainly not what I want any police department to be defined by. Life should be valued. It is outrageous because too many of us suffer from this after trying to do the right thing.”
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony posted a video on Twitter Friday saying the actions of the Minneapolis officer cannot be condoned.
“It’s unacceptable for officers to ignore their responsibility to protect the public, to safeguard the community and to use excessive force to take their lives,” Tony said.
There were strong words inside a gathering at The Circle of Friendship organization in Northwest Miami-Dade where speakers also included Sybrina Fulton, the mother of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot on Feb. 26th of 2012 by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was acquitted at his trial.
Fulton said “If you have a heart beating in your body then you have to know this was somebody else’s child,” she said about the incident in which 46-year-old George Floyd died while pleading he could not breathe and while an officer was captured on video using his knee to press his neck. That officer was arrested on Friday and charged with murder.
Fulton said, “How would you feel if someone put a knee on your neck. It’s a human being and we need to get more involved.”
Lauderhill Police Chief Constance Stanley said one of the things that outraged her was the inaction of the other officers present during Floyd’s death. She said her officers receive training aimed at making sure everyone speaks up when something’s wrong.
“We train them, if you see something that’s out of line, you have to come forward or stop it on a scene,” she told CBS 4 News.
It’s a point echoed by North Miami Police Chief Larry Juriga.
“It’s not just disturbing folks,” he said. “It’s wrong. The actions were wrong. The actions were wrong in the people who did not speak up and the people who did not stop it. And in law enforcement for not speaking up and stopping it. As leaders in law enforcement it is up to us to protect the sanctity of life, of all human life. We must focus on our engagement and on our de-escalation.”
The Broward County Chiefs of Police Association and its president, Miramar Police Chief Dexter Williams, said in a statement released Friday that the Minneapolis incident “degrades the trust of our collective communities, the dignity of the badge and the respect that has been earned by the honorable men and women that serve across this great nation.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez also spoke out before the Circle of Brotherhood, saying “Policing should not be based on stereotypes. It’s is ineffective, unsafe and most of all it is unjust.”
Melba Pearson, an attorney and a former homicide prosecutor and a former deputy director with the ACLU in Florida, said “The sad reality is that African American men are three times as likely to die from police violence as their white counterparts. We need to have more de-escalation training and we need to build trust in community policing.”
Charles Press, the Police Chief for Key Biscayne, said, “What happened in Minnesota was as horrible a site as any human being should see.”
Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said “This is the new generation and they are watching how we handle this. What matters here is not just about justice. All of us need to keep our community safe. We are out there to protect you.”
CBS4 also spoke with Delrish Moss, now a law enforcement captain with Florida International University and who became Police Chief in Ferguson, Missouri for two years following its police-related racial tensions when Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in August of 2014.
Moss said “It feels like we are taking a step back when it so hard to make progress. This was not an appropriate technique and I have to call this out. I think one thing that could have been done is that you don’t put your foot or knee on someone’s neck. You are cutting off the airways. In the late 1980s, we stopped chokeholds because people can die when you block the airway. In this case, this looked particularly callous.”
Law enforcement leaders say training for officers in deescalation and dealing with different races and cultures is critical. Lauderhill Chief Stanley points to a myriad of community events in her city — like bike with a cop events and coffee with a cop events — that bring the community and police together in positive forums to get to know each other, discuss issues and build trust.
“Let’s sit down and how a conversation and see what we can do to correct and try to identify everyone’s need and see what we can do to enhance the relationship,” Stanley said.