What do you get if you stage a police-brutality protest in Coral Gables? Honking support from a passing tow truck — but a tow truck with “Luxury Transportation” on the side and a flatbed with a $110,000 Mercedes Benz G-Class SUV.
What else do you get? Criticism and suspicion, especially for talking with city cops beforehand; a shifting crowd of about 200 people; a chance to express yourself to one of 22 local law enforcement heads; and a Zoom meeting in a week with the local police chief association.
Saturday’s protest of police brutality in Coral Gables looked different from the larger one in downtown Miami more in surroundings and size than humanity. The crowd came in Miami mix flavor: Hispanic, black, Caribbean, non-Latin white.
WHY CORAL GABLES?
All of it was more than the three University of Miami PhD students behind ProtestsMiami (“We are Protests with an S because we need to keep protesting“) hoped for after the video of George Floyd’s death pushed them to do something beyond the academic. Two of the three, Atlanta born-and-raised Ahzin Bahraini and Oshea Johnson of Washington, D.C., have PhD focuses that include racial inequalities in criminal justice.
And they wanted to do something in high-end Coral Gables.
“Coral Gables is predominantly white and Hispanic, affluent area,” Johnson said. “They are, a lot of times, distant with what happens with police violence. So that can go unnoticed, unheard, unfelt. Injustice somewhere should be injustice anywhere. However, this place is disconnected from that. We thought bringing voice, bringing passion, bringing a movement to an area so distant from it was needed.”
Gables police, whom ProtestsMiami spoke with beforehand, blocked off the westernmost block of Miracle Mile, LeJeune Road from Miracle Mile to Valencia Avenue and the streets surrounding Coral Gables City Hall.
Later, through a bullhorn at the corner of LeJeune Road and Coral Way, Bahraini told the crowd: “People said, ‘Why Coral Gables? It’s got a lot of white people. It’s very wealthy’…and that’s exactly why we’re here! Because for each black victim, there’s someone who’s not black who’s the perpetrator. We need to start addressing those non-black communities and their roles in these acts of violence and murders.”
Miami’s Rikki Goodman said, “Why not Coral Gables? Things that happen in one community should happen in another community. That includes protesting, that includes fighting for rights and standing up for what really matters. So, why not Coral Gables?”
As many others did, Coral Gables resident Tanya Acosta held a “White Silence=White Consent” sign. Her 15-year-old daughter, Ali Acosta, held the now-often-contrasted photos of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of police brutality during a pregame national anthem playing and the Minneapolis police officer fatally kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.
“This is a peaceful way to say black lives matter,” Tanya Acosta said. “Something like this needed to have white people present to show the black community that they’re not alone.”
They stood back from the nucleus of the protest, trying to maintain the social distancing that few others were. Tanya Acosta referenced the pandemic still looming with, “It’s not ideal…”
“But it’s worth it!” Ali said.
MEETING AT CITY HALL
Miami-Dade Commissioner Danielle Levine Cava said she’d been at the protest on Biscayne Boulevard before coming to Coral Gables.
“You don’t have to be black to be mad. And I’m mad as hell,” Levine Cava said. “It’s not what I want to see happening on my watch in Miami-Dade County. I’ve got to make sure it does not happen here.
“Before I was an elected official, I was a human being.”
At the intersection of LeJeune Road and Andalusia Avenue, the crowd marched across the grass to Coral Gables City Hall, where 22 heads of Miami-Dade law enforcement agencies stood on the steps.
Grievances were aired. A young woman opened the dialogue by telling them her first contact with a police officer was being stopped on a bike as a 12-year-old and asked if she had drugs. Her subsequent encounters did not improve her opinion of law enforcement.
Though Key Biscayne Chief Charles Press and Miami-Dade Corrections Director Daniel Junior spoke to the protesters, Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak acted as spokesman for his peers. Hudak is the Florida Police Chiefs Association District Director for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
“The reason why these chiefs of polices are here in front of you all is you took the higher road than the rest of society and wanted to meet with us,” Hudak said. “In other places in Dade County right now, people are taking advantage of your pain, our pain and the pain that is sweeping across this country.”
Acknowledging “We are not going to solve this today,” Hudak said, “I proffer a dialogue on behalf of the Dade Chiefs Association because these people represent all the cops in your neighborhood. We are going to achieve justice together.”
Hudak suggested a Zoom meeting with ProtestsMiami organizers and protesters in which they’ll discuss suggestions and issues. Bahraini said the link will be posted on ProtestsMiami’s Instagram page when they receive it.
After protesters and chiefs prayed together, about 60 protesters marched laps around Coral Gables City Hall. Others hung back to make themselves heard, either alone or in small groups, by individual police chiefs.
“I was nervous, but I think we led a non-violent, peaceful, solution-driven protest,” Johnson said. “That was our goal from the beginning. I think we accomplished that.”