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King holiday has renewed importance following Capitol attack

In Miami, Black leaders see inequities in the way law enforcement treats protesters Black and white.
A vendor sells T-shirts during the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in Miami's Liberty City.
A vendor sells T-shirts during the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in Miami's Liberty City. [ CARL JUST | Miami Herald ]
Published Jan. 17, 2021

Miami Gardens Councilman Robert Stephens was mid-meeting when an image on CNN caught his eye.

The sight rocked him to his core. Thousands of primarily White, Trump supporters laying siege to the Capitol Building as Congress attempted to certify the presidential election. Like many Black Americans, he wasn’t shocked. In his view, the president’s rhetoric over the past four years had led to this. But Stephens said he was mortified at this gross display of rebellion during one of the foundational moments of American democracy.

“What we witnessed last week was a testament to white supremacy, a testament to entitlement for a certain class of people in this nation and it divides us,” said Stephens.

Robert Stephens III, the youngest member of the Miami Gardens City Council, said, “What we witnessed last week was a testament to white supremacy."
Robert Stephens III, the youngest member of the Miami Gardens City Council, said, “What we witnessed last week was a testament to white supremacy." [ ASHLEY SYLVERA | Miami Herald ]

With the FBI’s warning of subsequent acts of domestic terrorism leading to Wednesday’s inauguration, Stephens and other say the upcoming Martin Luther King holiday celebrating unity and nonviolent protest have a renewed relevance.

“Dr. King taught about bringing us together and solving our differences so that we can continue to carry out the integrity of this nation,” Stephens said. To honor King, the councilman will be going door to door passing out personal protective equipment as a way to “remind residents that we haven’t forgotten them,” he added.

For Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix, it was the hypocrisy on the part of law enforcement — both in D.C. and locally — that caused the greatest concern.

“If it were the Black community, first of all, we couldn’t even get close to the steps [of the Capitol],” said Jean-Poix, the president of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, the city’s largest Black police organization. “It would’ve been a totally different outcome.”

Jean-Poix also recalled hearing the outrage from some of his fellow officers over the Black Lives Matter protesters who they believed should be “punished” for destroying property and were “anti-police.” Yet these same colleagues became virtually silent following the Capitol insurrection, something he felt directly opposed King’s message of equality.

“It’s a double standard,” Jean-Poix said.

Shirley Plantin agreed with Jean-Poix, saying that the riot showed “inequities in how different communities are policed.” As the director of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board, she’s tasked with finding ways to promote respect and understanding among the county’s diverse populations. For this year’s King holiday, Plantin helped organize a mass bicycle ride with communities of color and law enforcement.

“This is about continuing to build upon police-community relations,” Plantin said of Monday’s ride.

Not to be confused with Miami’s annual Bikes Up, Guns Down motorcycle movement, the board’s event will have a strong law enforcement presence — both as participants and to ward off any potential bad actors. Nearly a dozen police departments, including city of Miami, Miami Gardens and Bal Harbour, will join a slew of local bike groups in Monday’s ride. The route will mirror that of the yearly Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade — virtual this year due to COVID-19 concerns — through Liberty City, Brownsville and other primarily Black areas to counteract the negative narratives associated with these neighborhoods.

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Monday provides an opportunity for “seeing one another as one community,” Plantin said. “The more we can do that, the more successful we’ll be as community.”

Plantin said she knows a single bike ride will not alleviate community mistrust of the police. But she believes consistent engagement between the two sides can help them find common ground.

- C. Isaiah Smalls II

• • •

Tampa Bay Times U.S. Capitol coverage

REACTING TO RESPONSE : Did race play a role in police treatment of the U.S. Capitol mob?

CALL TO ACTION: Charlie Crist: Remove Donald Trump from office by invoking 25th Amendment

25TH AMENDMENT: When can it be used against a president?

EDITORIAL: The ugly spectacle perfectly captured the Trump-era GOP.

CLASSROOM TOPICS: Tampa Bay teachers, parents brace for tough conversations after U.S. Capitol siege

POLITIFACT FACT-CHECKS THE SIEGE: Here’s a look at the day’s short session, and the chaos that interrupted it.

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