Miami Gardens, Florida is a very high crime area. In fact, neighborhoodscout.com says that there are about 341 crimes per square mile–high even for Florida’s rate of 74 crimes/square mile. The national average is 39,6. In fact, Miami Gardens has one of the highest crime rates in America. The site says that Miami Gardens is safer than only 6% of U.S. cities.
The city has struggled with various forms of gun violence since it was incorporated 10 years ago. Miami Gardens, a predominantly African-American community, has demanded action toward the end of reducing violence in the city. Police Chief Matthew Boyd said that they needed cooperation from the citizens to accomplish the city’s goal of “serving and protecting the citizens and businesses in the city.”
One resident who was “protected and served” is Earl Sampson, who has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times in four years–that’s a lot of police protection! Twenty-eight year old Sampson has a rap sheet longer than the line outside a Wal-Mart on
Black Friday Thanksgiving–but has never been convicted of more than carrying a little bit of weed on him.
Sampson has been “busted” committing one particular offense 62 times, though: trespassing. In fact, the majority of those arrests occurred at one location: 3185 NW 207th St. What is it about that location that so draws Sampson that police would repeatedly catch him on the property? That’s where Sampson works!
Sampson works as a clerk at the 207 Quickstop, a local business that chose to participate in the city’s “Zero Tolerance” initiative, believing police when they said they were serious about stomping out violent crime. Operating under the principle that if minor crimes are stomped out major ones will follow because the criminals will have nowhere to hide–the “Broken Window Theory”– the program gives police sweeping powers to stop and arrest people who seem to be loitering or trespassing at the participating businesses.
Since the program sounded great on paper the store’s owner, Alex Saleh, gladly signed up. He has operated the Quickstop for 17 years, is on a first name basis with his customers, and thinks of them like family. He has watched many of them grow up and genuinely cares about those he has come to love. Saleh thought the program would protect his “family,” but the situation became a nightmare.
Saleh, who has never been robbed, has installed 15 video cameras in the store–not to deter crime, but to protect himself, his employees, and his customers from police. For more than a year, Saleh’s employees and customers have been repeatedly stopped and frisked by Miami Gardens police. Since signing up, Saleh has witnessed many of them being cited for minor violations as often as three times in the same day. Saleh says some employees have even been hauled off by police in the middle of their shifts.
Saleh says that police have repeatedly directed racial slurs a his customers and treat the majority like criminals. “Police line them up and tell them to put their hands against the wall. I started asking myself, ‘is this normal?’,‘” Saleh told the Miami Herald.
The cameras, installed in June 2012, have helped Saleh collect over two dozen videos. Police can be seen stopping customers, questioning them, searching them far too enthusiastically, and arresting them for trespassing despite that they are permitted to be on the property. More troubling, officers routinely conduct warrantless searches of Saleh’s business. The cameras catch a distressing pattern of excessive force and, according to the Herald, police have formed a habit of filing inaccurate reports in connection with the arrests.
One video shows Sampson stocking coolers when he is handcuffed by police and arrested–one of his many trespassing “offenses.” Saleh has told police many times that Sampson is an employee, but they have proven unwilling to consider that detail. Sampson has been stopped at least once a week for the past four years–sometimes several times a week! The Herald says the stops are conducted by the same officers, who repeatedly arrest and harass him.
Saleh feels that this behavior is a means of making it seem like they are making a large number of arrests to justify specialized crime units like the Rapid Action Deployment squad, a group with whom Saleh and his customers have become very familiar.
Saleh finally removed the “Zero Tolerance” sign from his window and told officers he no longer wanted to participate in what, in practice, was a horrifying violation of his customers’ civil liberties. Officers put the sign back up against his wishes and continued to harass his patrons.
Another employee was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm–the firearm in question was taken from beneath the counter following an illegal search of the business, so the case was never filed.
Last year, Saleh filed an internal affairs complaint about the arrests at his store, and presented the videos as evidence. However, this just made matters worse. Saleh says that police became more aggressive from that point. One day, the city’s entire Rapid Action Deployment squad barged into the store and stood, shoulder to shoulder, blocking two aisles while one of them used the restroom. The squad then left.
In December, Saleh was followed by Miami Gardens police and stopped after a couple of blocks because his tag light was out. Six officers responded to this minor event. He was cited for the light being out, having tinted windows, and bald tires. Before leaving, former Sergeant Martin Santiago told Saleh “I’m going to get you motherf***er.”
The next day, Saleh reviewed video of himself pulling out of the lot, and found that his tag light was working.
Saleh informed AATTP that he has been in contact with nearly everyone at the police department with no results. He is going to approach it at the federal level and hope that something is done about this grievous violation of his customers’ civil rights. He recognizes the importance of stamping out violent crime, but what is happening is inexcusable. “You can’t fight crime while violating people’s rights. We have a constitution….this is not police work,” Saleh told AATTP.
He and his attorney, Steve Lopez, are preparing to file a federal civil rights lawsuit, contending that the police department has “routinely, under the direction of the city’s top leaders, directed its officers to conduct racial profiling, illegal stops, and searches and other activities to cover up illegal misconduct.”
Mr. Saleh should be commended for recognizing and standing up to these abuses. We here at AATTP wish him the best of luck in his endeavors.
Below are just a few incidents Mr. Saleh has caught on film.
Descriptions are from the Herald:
A Miami Gardens police officer who asked to use the bathroom pokes around the back room without permission.
An officer is captured behind the counter of the business, poking through notebooks and sifting through boxes, all without permission
An employee is working at 207 Quickstop when an officer strides in, grabs him and takes him away. Owner Alex Saleh says his customers and employees are routinely arrested for trespassing by Miami Gardens police. He installed video cameras to prove his point.