The City Where Blacks Suffer Under 'Stop and Frisk on Steroids'

Police abuses in Miami Gardens, Florida, are staggering, but few Americans seem to care. 

Last year, police in Miami Gardens, Florida briefly made headlines after surveillance video captured their harassment of a black clerk at a convenience store. They stopped and questioned the man, Earl Sampson, a ludicrous 258 times. On 62 occasions, they arrested him for trespassing at his place of employment, a pattern of abuse that confounded his employer, the store's owner. After the Miami Herald exposed this story, it made national headlines at numerous journalistic outlets, then quickly faded into obscurity at the end of one news cycle. The scope of the abuse taking place in the police department remained unknown. The vast majority of outlets that covered the story cared too little to follow up.

Now evidence of staggering citywide abuse has come to light.

After a 6-month investigation, the TV network Fusion has documented a racist, illegal policing strategy that a local public defender calls "stop and frisk on steroids." One Miami Gardens police officer reports that his supervisor ordered him to stop all black males between the ages of 15 and 30. Just 110,754 people live in Miami Gardens, yet going back to 2008, police have stopped and questioned 56,922 people who were not arrested. There were 99,980 total stops that did not lead to arrests, and 250 individuals were stopped more than 20 times. 

Fusion also documented multiple instances of police officers falsifying official field reports, claiming to stop and question people who were actually already in county jail. 

This is stellar investigative journalism.

Denzel Flowers, who is 20, has been stopped by police 27 times and arrested 4 times, but has never been convicted of anything. Fusion conducted an interview with him:

While teenage, twenty-something and thirty-something black males were subjected to the most intense police harassment, Fusion also found that even some of the youngest and oldest residents in the city were deemed "suspicious" by police:

Fusion’s analysis of more than 30,000 pages of field contact reports, shows how aggressive and far-reaching the police actions were. Some residents were stopped, questioned and written up multiple times within minutes of each other, by different officers. Children were stopped by police in playgrounds. Senior citizens were stopped and questioned near their retirement home, including a 99-year-old man deemed to be "suspicious.” Officers even wrote a report identifying a five-year-old child as a "suspicious person.” 

A 99-year-old man!

One imagines that the septuagenarian crime rate in Miami Gardens is quite low, Florida or not. Yet police there conducted 982 stops of individuals aged 70 and above.

Here are two officers describing the corruption in their department:

On Twitter yesterday, I remarked that the impending sale of the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion underscored the fact that the vocally anti-racist faction in America erred when focusing its activism on the ouster from the NBA of Donald Sterling. I say that as Los Angeleno who is thrilled that he'll no longer own the team, and who has no objection to NBA players and owners pressuring him to sell. As a populist anti-racist cause, however, it was poorly chosen, for what total victory looks like is... a racist octegenarian who has $2 billion instead of a sports franchise. 

What if a fifth of the outrage dedicated to the Sterling campaign were aimed elsewhere?

For example, a whole police department out in Florida has been engaged in a sustained campaign of harassment that daily disrupts the lives of countless residents, with disproportionate abuse focused on blacks. It affects people ages 5 to 99. Whole neighborhoods of people were systemically denied basic civil rights. Countless innocent young black men were humiliated and treated as criminals. The harassment was carried out by local government, underwritten by federal grants, and constituted numerous Constitutional violations. And yet, despite it all, the police behavior in Miami Gardens will generate orders of magnitude less attention than Sterling's offensive words. There will be far fewer demands that the people responsible are held accountable. The national media will very much let the story die even if there are no apologies, terminations, or prosecutions. 

This is the reality of anti-racism in American public discourse. Maximum outrage and urgent demands to do something are marshaled against offensive words. A Princeton student who critiqued the concept of white privilege in the school newspaper made national headlines and inspired numerous essays picking apart his logic. But public employees with guns harassing, intimidating, and humiliating innocent black children, because they're black, every day in their neighborhood? Fusion published that story Thursday morning and almost no one noticed. 

* * *

A totally unsurprising postscript from the Miami Gardens Police Department web site:

The best part is where a man who appears to be guilty of standing in a grassy field with a hoodie on attracts a canine officer who then sends the dog to bite him.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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