In Memoriam George Floyd: Our Duty Going Forward

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, District 7

“Man has no right to kill his brother. It is no excuse that he does so in uniform; he only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.”  ~Percy Bysshe Shelley

I was talking to a good friend (an African-American general contractor named Leighton Brown) about the George Floyd travesty and what we should do to foster a unified front. Someone made reference to the views of “Hispanics,” at which point he turned around and said: “I am Hispanic, too; I am married to a Hispanic.”

Miami is unique because our ideological differences are often greater than our racial/ethnic differences. My own children have married people of Brazilian, Lebanese, Puerto Rican and Irish descent.

My first chief of staff as commissioner was Afro-Cuban. My campaign consultant now is also Afro-Cuban.

In my small condominium (37 units), we have a large Jamaican cadre who joined with my wife and others to dethrone a Hispanic woman – a “recall” under our bylaws – who was not an effective president. We have Kuwaitis, Argentinians, Colombians, and every other kind of Hispanic and white unit-owner. Our Czech neighbor refused to sell our condominium to a Russian group, because of the Soviet invasion in 1968. My next-door neighbors are Venezuelan Jews.

Miami is a polyglot metropolis. We manage to be tolerant, despite having strong ideologies that make many of us wince at anything that smacks of socialism and others wince at anything that smacks of excessive nationalism.

But here’s what unites us.

All of us despise not only the cruelty of someone who plants a knee on the neck of a man who is already handcuffed and pleading for his life. All of us despise those who are equally armed as the one committing the murder and fail to prevent it.

As mayor, I used to always tell people that an innocent woman or elderly person being attacked, while throngs of bystanders watched, would not happen in Miami. And I was proven right when demonstrators risked life and limb to protect a CVS store from would-be looters. (We all noticed that they represented all races and colors.)

I was also proven right when a Broward policewoman was seen to push her rather large male colleague away from a kneeling woman that her colleague had pushed for no apparent reason.

None of us can comprehend how someone with 71 incidents of use of force, in the span of 3 years, can still be given a weapon and the power to arrest his fellow citizens. None of us can fathom why officers who have repeated disciplinary violations of excessive use of force not only remain on a police force but even get promoted.

But all of us empathize with a police officer who is having to stand there and having a civilian insult him, antagonize him, photograph him and treat him as the enemy.

Very few countries in the world allow citizens to insult their police officers like that. Very few allow protesters to take to the streets and march without permits, occasionally even jeopardizing motorists and themselves by climbing onto elevated super-highways where cars are moving legally at over 60 miles per hour.

As the mayor of Miami stated in a recent interview, it is a very “delicate balance” between First Amendment rights and the kind of law and order necessary to keep both persons and property safe from those who would do harm, for no reason other than to vent their frustration with the slow progress of racial or economic fairness.

In our county and city, we have concluded that chokeholds should be banned. We have been among the first to institute body cameras. We have worked hard to recruit and promote minorities and women to the police departments.  (In my 8 years as Mayor of Miami, I had three black chiefs: Clarence Dickson, Perry Anderson and Calvin Ross). We designed and initiated (in both the county and the City of Miami) police-youth dialogues that sensitize both sides to the needs and fears of the other. We are on our way to instituting, at the county level, a civilian independent panel – similar to the one we instituted 30 years ago in the City of Miami.

For those who think we cannot achieve neighborhood harmony, I point to the West Grove, where the two elementary schools (Carver and Tucker) have achieved “A” ratings while educating the most racially diverse students anywhere. And I point to a Children’s Trust that has just about achieved universal childcare for all, with a budget well in excess of $100 million.

Like the rest of the nation, and perhaps a little more because of our dependency on the leisure industry, we were hit hard by the novel coronavirus. As we strive to slowly and methodically recover from that crisis, we are now beset by a massive, heartfelt reaction to the cruelty of authorities in other cities, and the nonchalance of leaders at various levels.

But we are Miamians. We will not let antagonisms of other regions divide us further than the differing ideologies that we possess and that make some of us liberals and some conservatives.

And we believe, as Lincoln said, that America is the world’s “last, best hope.”

We are not about to throw that hope away.

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  1. If indeed, Miami is as tolerant as Suarez describes, I believe that it is precisely because of the polyglot demographics he states. He describes schools and housing where there is true integration of all races and ethnicities, which is exactly what is needed all over this country… all over this planet! That is how we overcome the false idea that there is such a thing as a “superior” or “inferior” race or ethnicity. But in most US communities we now have schools that are more segregated than ever. And we also have segregation of the rich from the poor, which also leads to false beliefs that some people are just “superior” to others and that is why those people are rich. This is complete BS, but it is nevertheless a myth that the majority of Americans now believe. Only when we find a way to fully integrate, will we overcome the racism and other “isms” plaguing our nation…. our world!


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