Monday, December 07, 2015

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's 'Rahm Emanuel moment'

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It was supposed to be Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine's shining moment.

Art Basel is the one week of the year that the 1% beat a path to Miami Beach's doorstep.

One website reported that some 780 private jets brought the moneyed-class to South Florida for the art-filled weekend.

Had things gone according to plan, Mayor Levine would have been taking victory laps around City Hall today.

But all that changed on Saturday in the time it takes to squeeze the trigger of an AR-15 rifle.

Sometime shortly after 11 a.m., a Miami Beach police officer fired his weapon, sending two .223 cal. bullets into the chest of a deranged man, who we are told had attempted to hold up a bank a near 14th Street and Alton Road before barging into a barber shop a block away.

An hour or two later, cable channels worldwide were showing pictures of a silent and grim-faced Levine standing next to Police Chief Dan Oates as he attempted to explain how one of his officers gunned down a man who posed little or no threat to anyone, while dozens of onlookers filmed the entire thing.

After calling the shooting an "isolated incident" that was "horrible" and "tragic," Levine slithered off and out of camera range for the rest of the weekend.

Levine performs quite well when he's reading scripts. Not so well, however, when he's confronted with a crisis that doesn't come with a script.

Today on Facebook, Miami Beach-based filmmaker Billy Corben posted a scathing broadside that took Levine to task for his handling of the incident.

Is Mayor Philip Levine engaging in victim blaming? The man’s identity was unknown to police at the time of the confrontation, so it is irrelevant. It’s a political smoke screen. Nobody said he was an angel. We knew he was a bank robbery suspect. The fact that he has a swastika tattoo might appall the 41st Street corridor, but so too should the image of government authorities shooting a man in broad daylight at point blank range in the street. (Note: the suspect spent the last 12 years in prison, which means his body art could have been a survival mechanism rather than ideological commitment.)

Are you suggesting that his his prior criminal record justifies that action in Miami Beach during Art Basel when less than lethal force (Taser) would have sufficed and ended the situation expeditiously and heroically? The officers and public would have gone home safely and the suspect would have gone to jail. In the video, you can clearly see that one of the officers justifiably deployed his Taser, which for a fraction of a second appears to work. This footage could have been used for training (even marketing) by Taser International. A model for police worldwide. But then, less than a second later, the officer with the assault rifle uses lethal force. So, instead, it is yet another example of what appears to be a public execution by an overzealous law enforcement officer who, instead of deescalating and preserving life, turned a potentially dangerous situation into a deadly one. And, likely, considering the track record of Miami-Dade County — no police officer has been charged with an on-duty shooting in over 25 years despite a proliferation of these events — there will be no legitimate investigation, consideration of charges or accountability.

I know that there are real, justified, sometimes even essential uses of deadly force, but you, Mr. Mayor, have never acknowledged an unjustified use of force of any kind or taken genuine action against any. As we learned this year, in Miami Beach, cops have to write insensitive emails to get fired. Otherwise, even when caught on video abusing their authority and physically assaulting civilians, as with Detective Philippe Archer, they get a pass.

I encourage you to take a look at the video [here]. It's a wider angle, longer and more extensive than the original and shows the suspect was not lifting the razor against the police, but appears to be threatening only himself with it. Just because he may have wanted to commit "suicide by cop," as has been alleged, doesn't mean you have to oblige him. In fact, it actually speaks to the fact that the man needed help. Why use deadly force just because you can and you know you can get away with it? Is that how our police officers should be trained and conduct themselves? Isn’t it braver and in the best interest of the public (particularly those who are standing feet away across the street) to show restraint? If what you see on this video is within city policy, do you think we need to amend the policy?

You now have your very own Memorial Day 2011 incident. A deadly encounter that resulted in 115 shots fired, a man killed and 4 bystanders hit. That “investigation" ended earlier this year, on your watch, and no officers were charged, fired or even punished. The record of this police department during your tenure has been spotty, at best. This is your Rahm Emanuel moment, Mr. Mayor. Tread cautiously and thoughtfully.

The world is watching.

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