Under the Microscope

Words matter. We write often about how words matter in relationships and insensitive or intemperate words risk harming them. They matter just as much in our profession and how the public we serve perceives us and what we do. Their misuse carries serious...

Now is the time, Matti, to flip the ACLU a bird and inform them that your responsibility is to the protection of your taxpayers.

 Ramesh Nyberg, “A Dist-Urban Weekend” from Police and Security News (July/August 2011)

Now that’s a sentiment I bet a lot of you can relate to!

That the ACLU and law enforcement have a prickly relationship is not news to anyone who belong to or support either institution. “Prickly” might even be too subtle, as the perceptions of each by the other are often clouded with distrust and even antipathy. Ramesh Nyberg’s words resonate because they reflect the sentiments formed by example after example of criticisms and legal challenges initiated or supported by the American Civil Liberties Union in response to law enforcement actions and practice. The ACLU has often been a vocal critic of police uses of force, search and seizure practices, and other operational policies they believe infringe on individual rights.    

Nyberg, a retired LEO (27 years in south Florida, with 22 as a homicide investigator) and current criminal justice teacher and writer goes on:

I find it wildly ironic that the ACLU, which protects civil liberties, is influencing a mayor to the point that the very citizens of Miami Beach have lost their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Mayer Bower, tell the ACLU that they can go hang out with their friends Raymond Herisse and the rest of the scumbags who invade your city every year, but do it on the other side of the causeway…

Strong words and on the surface - taken in the macro view of the long-strained ACLU/police relationship – maybe even appropriate. But, in the context of Nyberg’s article and the actual circumstances that inspired them, they happen to be way off base. Worse, depending on who lays hold of his article and how they choose to use it, they are incendiary!

I read his words and was angry! Not at the ACLU but at Nyberg himself, a writer I have read often and come to respect for his experience and direct approach. In this case, however, that approach misses the point and, in my opinion, risks diminishing law enforcement in the eyes of the public should they read too much into his words. If you’re going to “tell it like it is” at least get the facts straight, and think about how your words may be perceived.

The background

Urban Beach Weekend (UBW) has been a longstanding event in Miami Beach, FL with its moniker apparently coined in 2002. What happens is, every Memorial Day weekend up to 300,000 people, predominantly African-American, descend on the city of Miami Beach, FL for a largely hip-hop inspired, “urban” interpretation of the holiday. As can be expected, when a large group of people, mostly young, gather to party there will be certain problems may follow, specifically heavy alcohol (and other drug) consumption, fights, public intoxication, vandalism, and assorted disorderly behavior. Arrests over the weekend skyrocket, numbering over 400 for 2011.

This year was marred by two specific events, in addition to the usual and customary shenanigans. Both involved the use of deadly force by police (gunfire) and both have made the UBW a target of condemnation by locals. The first involved Raymond Herisse, an ersatz “tourist” in the area who, unbeknownst to local law enforcement at the time, had a secret he wished to keep: He was a suspect in a November 2010 armed robbery and aggravated battery (he’s accused of shooting the victim) in Boynton Beach, FL and was a felon in possession of a firearm while visiting Miami Beach. Of course, he came into contact with police, decided cooperation with their lawful orders to stop weren’t in his best interest, and fled. At some point, the car he was driving was stopped by officers and, rather than giving in to their attempts to stop his flight, Herisse used his car to try and run over several of them.                    

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