Friends and neighbors casually conversing beneath the shade of an oak tree on a sunny afternoon over barbeque, has led to an upcoming community event where all of South Miami can join together to show support for law enforcement.
“Ironically, our fun time discussion under the tree by St. John’s happened one or two days before the police shootings in Dallas…that kind of escalated the conversation,” said event organizer and community advocate Levi Kelly. “Now it has taken on a new meaning with what is happening in the country.”
Police Appreciation Day is July 28th at Gibson-Bethel Community Center, 5800 SW 66 Street, from 1:30 to 5:30 pm. All residents are invited to enjoy hot dogs and hamburgers and community conversation while taking the time to say thank you to the cops who work the city beat.
“Chief Landa is very approachable and that is a plus for community policing…lots of officers see that and will follow his lead,” said Kelly. “But the national environment is not good, when you see all the media attention and hatred spewed from the television as we go into election season.”
Fatal police shootings and deaths of African American civilians while in custody like Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr., Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray have led to national unrest and an apparently retaliatory killing spree of police officers executed July 7 in Dallas during a protest rally of officer related shootings.
“When you look around the country and see what is going on with movements such as Black Lives Matter vilifying the police while here in South Miami we have a Black community and police department that work together and get along, we wanted to recognize that and show appreciation,” said Commissioner Josh Liebman. “We know each other’s names and officers go out of their way to make the community feel safe.”
Liebman donated the balance of his Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) expense account to provide food and drink for the day. After recently attending a CAST (Cops and Students Talking) event for area kids ages 7 to 15, he said he was moved by the way South Miami Officers broke down stereotypes with honest conversation and thus inspired the youth to reciprocate with a candid dialogue.
CAST, PAL (Police Athletic League), the Police Explorers program, and Police Chief Rene Landa’s Community Policing program initiatives are some of the successes that organizers say make South Miami a perfect model the country can emulate for positive relations between law enforcement and residents.
“We don’t have a lot of problems here,” said organizer James McCants. “Of course we had a shooting last year but overall we have a good relationship with the chief and other personnel,” “Phone calls are returned, the community is informed during investigations, and we work together to be part of the solutions.”
South Miami resident volunteers and community leaders came together recently to plan the Police Appreciation Day itinerary. Attendees brainstormed on how to build local business support and enhance volunteer participation. The mission behind July 28th’s festivities is also to recognize the dangers and challenges cops face daily and to commend the significant role officers play in keeping the community peace despite sometimes “overwhelming odds.”
Officer Melvris Lopez’s name was repeatedly mentioned during the meeting as an exemplary respected and trusted front line cop. She has worked the CRA Residential Zone 3 Beat for over 11 years.
“What I do is community policing,” said Officer Lopez in a subsequent interview. “I interact with everyone on a daily basis, the kids, the homeless. You have to take the time to get out of your patrol car and sit down and get to know them by name. We talk about the shootings and they ask me my personal opinion. They are uptight about it but when they know you and you become like family they lose that fear that you would act out on them and feel safe with you…and I know they have my back.”
CRA programs coordinator McCants said “Appreciation Day is for all of us to eat, mingle, talk, and get to know each other. By doing this we can possibly save a life or prevent something from happening. We can be a prime example of how to make relationships better between the community and cops.”
For more information contact Levy Kelly at 786-423-5776 or James McCants at 305-668-7237.