Florida Cops Arrest Black Guy 62 Times For 'Trespassing,' Mostly At The Store Where He Works. Wait, What?
And now, for something completely different: Our first story this morning looked at a rightwing website's million-word "investigation" of the time a guy who photographs naked ladies also took some pictures of Barack Obama. By way of contrast, let's see what some actual old-fashioned investigative journalism can accomplish: with any luck, it might make a difference in a seriously fucked-up situation. The Miami Herald brings us acompelling, detailed story of racial profiling by cops in Miami Gardens, Florida, that's just crammed with "oh holy shit, really?" moments. This is good stuff, the kind of investigative journalisming that makes "muckraking" an honorific. Also, it's one of those stories that will make you want to throw things -- our usual admonitions about removing heavy objects from the vicinity of your computer monitor apply.
Let's start with the arrests: a constant string of arrests of Earl Sampson, the guy in the video stills up top. Mr. Sampson has been arrested for "trespassing" 62 times in the last four years, mostly at the convenience store where he works. ( Go see the videos -- we wish we could embed them.) But Sampson isn't the only person getting arrested for criminally loitering at the store; Miami Gardens cops also regularly arrest customers, too, although the store's owner, Alex Saleh, keeps asking them to knock it off, because for some crazy reason he doesn't see how harassing his customers is supposed to reduce crime. He finally installed a video camera system in his store -- as the Herald says,
Not to protect himself from criminals, because he says he has never been robbed. He installed the cameras -- 15 of them -- he said, to protect him and his customers from police.
What's that old joke about not knowing where the threat is when somebody yells "Help! Police!"?
The Herald, using polite journamalism talk, puts it pretty mildly when it says the videotapes "raise some troubling questions about the conduct of the city’s police officers":
The videos show, among other things, cops stopping citizens, questioning them, aggressively searching them and arresting them for trespassing when they have permission to be on the premises; officers conducting searches of Saleh’s business without search warrants or permission; using what appears to be excessive force on subjects who are clearly not resisting arrest and filing inaccurate police reports in connection with the arrests.
Chief Matthew Boyd, needless to say, wasn't interested in being interviewed, but did issue a boilerplate statement about being committed to protecting and serving the community; it may as well have gone ahead and added "yadda yadda."
Miami Gardens police have been trying to go all Rudy Giuliani on crime in the city, doing a dumbed-down version of the "broken windows" approach that emphasizes enforcing laws against petty crimes like loitering and trespassing, except they seem mostly hell-bent on inventing offenses rather than waiting to see if any actual crimes happen. At Saleh's convenience store, for instance, they
asked him to participate in what they called a “zero-tolerance” program to reduce crime. He gladly signed up, not realizing at the time how much it would impact his business and customers. Under the program, Miami Gardens police are given broad powers to stop and arrest people who appear to be loitering or trespassing at the participating business...
Almost immediately after Saleh put the “zero-tolerance” sign in his window, he regretted it.
Of course then Miami Gardens police officers started arresting his employees 50 times for "trespassing" at their jobs, and Saleh was like "fuck this noise" and took the sign down, after telling officers he wasn't zero-tolerancing any more.
And that's why Earl Sampson gets arrested all the time. Oh, and then there's also the harassment that Saleh came in for after he complained about the police harassing his customers: A bunch of cops came into the store and stood in a line blocking two aisles while one of them went to use the restroom. Your basic show of force to let a troublemaker know who's boss.
And of course, since news broke that he's planning to file a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city, Saleh has been treated to some extra-special scrutiny. Last December, he was followed as he left the store after closing and stopped for a burned-out license-plate light. It was such a serious threat to the peace of the community that two additional squad cars arrived, so that six officers could investigate a broken tag light, for which Saleh was cited. And of course, the parting insult:
Before leaving, the unit’s then-sergeant, Martin Santiago, allegedly told Saleh:
“I’m going to get you mother-f-----,’’
The next day, Saleh viewed video of his truck as it pulled out of the parking lot the night before.
His tag light was working.
Go read this thing, and enjoy some excellent local reporting. It's rage-inducing, but it's also a fine example of what real journamalism should look like.
[ Miami Herald ]