Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Right of Responsibility: The Miami Gardens Case Study

People have duties toward the place where they live and towards other people who live with them.

For the next several posts, I'll be featuring case studies that illustrate an article from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that children and adults find interesting and illuminating.

The goal is to identify examples that I can use with my 4th grade class. 

There is a lot of topical and recent fodder I could have pulled for this one, but last week's This American Life is possibly the least grey. In the second part of their two part series "Cops See It Differently," they feature the strange, awful case of Miami Gardens, Florida.

Cops See It Differently Part 2, Act 1

The episode is called Inconvenience Store. Instead of trying to summarize it, I'll let This American Life summarize it. The following is an extended excerpt from the accompanying transcript:

(Miami Gardens is) a city of about 110,000 people with a lot of crime, a higher murder rate than Chicago or New York or Miami. In fact, it used to be part of Miami-Dade County and broke off in 2003. It became a separate city, started their own police force after that, partly because the Miami-Dade cops hadn't been so responsive to the community.

And at first, apparently, people loved the new cops. Miami Gardens is an overwhelmingly black community. Its leaders are black. They had a black police chief. Residents called the new cops the bumblebees because they seemed to be swarming everywhere and people liked that.
And, really, it just took a couple years for it to become a total mess. (T)he best illustration of how bad it got happened to two men-- the owner of a convenience store called the Quickstop and one of his employees. 
Back in 2008, right after the city launched its new police department, officers stopped by and they talked to the owner of the Quickstop, a guy named Alex Saleh. They asked him if he wanted to partner with the police in a new initiative called The Zero-Tolerance Zone Trespassing Program.
Alex says he never had any problems inside his store. But under the program, the police would keep an extra eye on the Quickstop and on the parking lot, and if they thought something was up, they wouldn't have to wait for Alex to phone in a complaint. They could stop and question or apprehend someone if they felt they had cause. 
Alex says he'd be standing right there in the store, right behind the counter, and officers would ignore him and tell his customers to put down their things. Then they'd take the customers outside and line them up against the wall. The customers were always black. The officers were almost always white.
Before long, it wasn't just the customers being questioned. The police started including a guy named Earl. Alex paid him to do odd jobs around the store. One night, right before closing, Alex sent Earl out to the parking lot with a broom and a dustpan. When he didn't come back, Alex want out to check on him.
That incident with the police, where Alex walked outside to check on Earl at the end of the night and found only a dustpan and broom, that happened two more times that month.

Surveillance video of Earl Sampson under arrest for trespassing at the store where he works. 

Each time the police picked up Earl, they'd book him into the county jail. He'd spend the night there, go to court the next day, and there he'd be given a choice. Plead guilty to trespassing and get out of jail right away, or he could fight the trespassing charge, but it would be a hassle. And it would be expensive. He'd have to hire a lawyer and post bond and wait for a trial date. So Earl always pleaded guilty.

Three years into the program, he had been arrested 63 times and stopped another 99 times. On the police reports, the reason was almost always the same. Earl seemed, quote, "suspicious." Suspicious while waiting at the bus stop or playing basketball for buying food or walking to a public restroom-- only once did Earl run.
In the arrest report, the officer wrote, quote, "Earl stated that he was running because he was tired of the police arresting him for no reason." After that, Earl says it was just easier to give himself up.
By 2012, four years into the zero tolerance program, the violent crimes that people were most concerned about had not dropped. In fact, murders had increased, and so had assaults. Though burglaries were down, and vehicle thefts fell by half.
Way in the back corner of the store, at the end of an aisle, there's an 11 by 11 foot room built out of plywood and sheet rock. And inside that room is a mattress and a sink for Earl to wash up in. If you were picking up laundry detergent or toilet paper, you'd be standing right next to where he sleeps.
But even that didn't prevent the police from coming in and getting Earl. Not long after his room was built, he got arrested again for trespassing at the store. Earl didn't immediately take a plea this time. Alex doesn't know why, but Earl spent 20 days in jail. And the judge issued a stay away warning from the store.
(Finding no recourse through legal channels, Alex went to the Miami Herald)

One of the Herald's reporters, Julie Brown, pulled records that showed police had arrested Earl at least 62 times for trespassing.
Most of the citations were issued at the Quickstop. And overall, Earl had been stopped and questioned more than 250 times. His criminal record was 38 pages long.
Miami Gardens only has 110,000 people. And the number of stops that had occurred over a five-year period was 99,980... Compare that to the city of Miami-- it has a population four times as large as Miami Gardens-- over the same period of time, they had only made 3,753 stops.
More than 11,000 of the stops were for kids. Kids who, in the field contact reports, were labeled suspicious while doing things like playing freeze tag, riding bikes, swimming at pools, or hanging out a public park.

(Here are some examples cited by the program):

Five years old this kid is, and it says, the listed subject was fitting the description of the suspect in the area of a burglary.

Here's another one. This kid was seven years old, stopped for being a suspicious person. Officer says in the remarks, "I was dispatched to the above location. Several subjects, possibly selling narcotics. This subject was observed in front of this location. And pat searched was conducted after consent... No wants nor warrants were found. It says here in the physical characteristics that this seven-year-old had a slight beard.
So how would I use this case study? 

I'm not exactly sure. 

But at the very least it is an extreme illustration of when a society doesn't value a right to responsibility.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...