OAS human rights delegation hears South Florida police complaints

By David Smiley
September 21, 2015
Miami Herald

A delegation of the human-rights arm of the Organization of American States received an earful Monday from alleged victims of police abuse in Miami-Dade County, during the first leg of a fact-finding mission into racial discrimination and police violence in the U.S.

The mother of Travis McNeil, killed during a traffic stop in 2011 by a Miami police officer, wrote in a statement that her grieving family was “humiliated” and forced by police to lie on the ground during a sting in her Overtown neighborhood — days after her 28-year-old son’s death.

Demetrius Vaughn, a Dream Defenders activist, talked about being corralled and arrested by at least four officers this year when he tried to speak about police abuse during a Fort Lauderdale commission meeting.

Rosetta Bryson, a co-founder of South Florida’s Black Lives Matter movement, said South Florida is a region “hostile and unapologetically vicious to people of color” who are arrested simply for being black or brown.

“It is not just driving while black. It is walking while black. It is eating while black,” she said.

The testimony came during a two-hour community meeting coordinated by the Community Justice Project at the St. Thomas University School of Law. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, a commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, stopped at the school between private meetings with Miami’s mayor and police chief, the Miami-Dade public defender, and the family of the late Israel Hernandez-Llach, killed by a Miami Beach officer’s Taser during a foot chase. Antoine and two attorneys, including human rights lawyer Nicole C. Lee, flew Monday night to Orlando.

Antoine, who will also visit New Orleans, St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, said the commission — a respected authority on human rights issues in the Americas — is in the U.S. due in part to feelings that the organization has overlooked problems in North America. As a member state of the OAS, the U.S. government will be compelled to respond, even though Miami’s mayor suggested recently that the OAS would be better off investigating Cuba or Venezuela. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said the delegation met briefly with several former political prisoners from Cuba who were waiting at City Hall after learning of the visit in the Miami Herald.)

Antoine said the delegation came to Miami-Dade because of widely published reports about incidents of police abuse involving African Americans. In the last four years, shootings in Miami led to an ongoing inquiry by the U.S. Department of Justice, officers in Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach have been fired for sending racist texts and emails, Miami Gardens police have been accused of racial profiling, and North Miami Beach police have been caught using mug shots of black men for target practice.

“It is an issue that must be confronted. It can no longer be invisible and we must all address it,” Antoine said in kicking off Monday’s meeting. “We think it’s a very important time to do this report.”

Antoine acknowledged that verifying the accuracy of anecdotes can be somewhat difficult. But she said the commission isn’t conducting a fly-by-night investigation.

“I do think we tend to get a fairly accurate picture,” she said.

She said she’s been pushing for this review for four years, and her work dates back to 2012, when the commission held a tribunal on Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law after the killing of Trayvon Martin.

“This is not isolated,” she said.

The commission’s report is expected to be published early next year.