Special police car in Miami for Black History Month causes backlash: NPR
Miami Police Department
When Miami officials unveiled a special police car in honor of Black History Month, it was greeted with loud cheers and applause. But the fanfare proved to be short-lived.
The newly designed cruiser has come under fire since its debut on Thursday, with critics calling it tone-deaf and inappropriate in light of the brutal beating of Tire Nichols by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, last month. Others described it as an empty gesture attempting to downplay the struggles of the black community.
“Miami’s police cruiser misses the mark in celebrating black history by highlighting the wrong continent,” Florida State Representative Dotie Joseph, who serves parts of Miami, told NPR.
The cruiser was released to the public – with a Black History Month-themed badge – on Thursday outside the city’s Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum. Days earlier, another patrol car designed to celebrate black history suffered a backlash in Columbus, Ohio.
In Miami, this isn’t the first time law enforcement has created a themed cruiser. Special patrol cars were made for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Autism Awareness and Hispanic Heritage Month.
“In keeping with tradition, we’ve had a lot of officers and members come up to us and say, ‘Hey, how come we don’t have any for black history,’ Sgt. Miami Police Department Stanley Jean-Poix said Friday during a panel in response to criticism.
He added that no taxpayer dollars were used to fund the cruiser and instead it was paid for by the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association.
Artist says cruiser design aimed for unity and paid homage to Africa
Unlike the typical Miami police cruiser, which is largely white with a dark green stripe and yellow lettering, this special edition is covered in black with red, yellow and green stripes – colors commonly used to represent solidarity pan-african.
The vehicle is also adorned with four raised fists, an outline of the African continent and the words “Miami Police Supports Black History Month”.
Lavish N Looney (Lump), the Miami-based artist who created the special patrol car design, said unity and tribute to Africa were major themes in the artwork. He said he went through several designs before a version was finalized, adding that previous versions included images of Martin Luther King Jr. and former President Barack Obama.
Lump said he stood by the police cruiser despite some of the backlash she received.
“Two things can exist at the same time,” Lump told NPR. “There could be even more work between the police department and civilians as police and civilians come together to celebrate black history.”
Lump said he grew up in a community where people were “not big fans of the police,” so he understands patrol cars can be intimidating. He hopes this cruiser will be more accessible to community members.
Critics accuse the police department of overlooking real issues that matter to the black community
Still, some have found the city’s effort dishonest, arguing that it overlooks real issues facing the black community, such as the state banning an advanced placement course in African American studies in high schools.
“As unfortunate as this blunder may be, the black community has bigger fish to fry,” said Joseph, the state legislator. “If an elected official claims to be a ‘friend’ of a black person or the black community in general, now is not the time to remain silent.”
Others on social media noted that the city has remained silent over the death of Antwon Cooper, who was shot by Miami police in March. The Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s Office said it will not press charges against the officer involved in the shooting.
The patrol car was designed to commemorate Miami’s first black police officers during segregation
Miami police officials said the cruiser had a special message: It was to honor the city’s first black officers, some of whom attended the unveiling this week.
“It’s our way of specifically honoring the first five officers who in 1944 suffered injustice, prejudice, resistance and still answered the call,” the police chief said Friday. Miami, Manny Morales.
Miami did not hire black police officers until 1944. The first generation of black police officers worked in a separate police station, which included a courtroom specifically for black judges.
At the time, black officers were only authorized to arrest black civilians and had no authority over white residents. It wasn’t until 1963 that black law enforcement was finally integrated into the city’s main police headquarters and the compound was removed and later turned into a memorial museum.
Lt. Ramon Carr said he understood some of the criticism about the timing, but defended the intentions behind the themed cruiser.
“It had nothing to do with being disrespectful, being ashamed. It was something like a source of pride for us, and it still is,” Carr said.
City Commissioner Christine King, who represents the district where the vehicle was unveiled, told NPR she believes the car was designed in good faith, adding that it has been in the works for more than a year.
“The intent is to honor and respect our black police officers and their service. However, I understand our country is in mourning and the unveiling is inappropriate,” King said.