MIAMI – Renita Holmes, a longtime Miami activist, devoted her Sunday to defuse friction between law enforcement and “Justice for George Floyd!” protesters in Miami during the coronavirus pandemic.
While tired of institutionalized racism, police brutality, gang-related shootings, domestic violence and gentrification, the Overtown resident has contacted leadership and showed up to commission meetings for years to speak up her mind.
Holmes was walking near burned police cars on Saturday after a small group turned a large peaceful march into a fiery protest outside of the Miami Police Department garage on Northwest Third Avenue.
On Sunday, the fearless inner-city activist used her scooter. Aside from downtown, protesters were in Miami’s Edgewater, Midtown and Wynwood neighborhoods. Holmes parked her scooter in front of a line of armed Florida Highway Patrol troopers.
“They’ve got mamas ... I appreciate your patience and your tolerance,” Holmes told about a dozen troopers while sitting on her scooter.
The troopers had just faced a crowd of protesters who wanted to march on Interstate 195, a 4.4-mile-long freeway connecting Interstate 95 in the west with the Julia Tuttle Causeway to Miami Beach in the east. FHP Capt. Roger Reyes broke the line and asked Holmes if he could hug her.
“It was OK for him to be human too,” Holmes said on Monday. “We had a wonderful opportunity to show that love wins."
Reyes, a Miami District Commander, didn’t know Holmes was an activist known at Miami City Hall. He didn’t know she is old enough to remember the death and destruction of the 1980 Miami riots. He didn’t know she herself has reported being assaulted by a police officer or that she had held a teenager in her arms after he was shot.
Holmes didn’t know Reyes is a member of Troop K, which is separated into three districts: Orlando, West Palm Beach and Miami. She didn’t know Reyes commands the troopers in Miami who protect the Florida Turnpike system. He said Holmes touched his heart after she parked her scooter between protesters and the line of troopers.
“She kept saying that ‘They all have moms.' We (the troopers) have moms and I saw that it wasn’t just one-sided -- that she was caring for us as well as the protesters out there," Reyes said.
When Reyes approached her, Holmes said, “Hurt people, hurt people.” Holmes didn’t know the trooper had recently lost his mother. But on Monday, she said she looked him in the eyes and she knew he was in pain. Reyes didn’t ask her for identification. Instead, he said, “Can I give you a hug?”
On Monday, Reyes said it’s a moment he will never forget.
“We embraced and there was a connection there. It was special,” Reyes said. “I wish I could hug my mom. She filled the void yesterday.”
Local 10 News anchor/reporter Louis Aguirre was there filming with his cellphone after the crowd confronted the troopers and a couple of activists helped to push them back toward Midtown. He saw the two hugged, as Holmes said she doesn’t want people hurting anymore.
“I love you, man," Holmes told Reyes before driving away. “I owe you, Big Boo.”
Reyes and Holmes’ connection quickly went viral. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany played the Local 10 News video during a news conference. An FBI Miami agent said the “hopeful” video “touches hearts” and he was proud when he saw President Donald Trump took notice of it.
A Miami-Dade police officer said “that’s the love” that can “motivate more funding for training to prevent police brutality.” A Miami police officer said he and his wife cried watching the “moment of reconciliation" and showed it to their children. A prosecutor said “love and understanding” is the only way to get rid of racism.
“It’s all about humanity," Reyes said.
In downtown Miami, protests continued on Sunday. Officers in riot gear surrounded protesters. There was tear gas, rubber bullets, flash grenades. Holmes said she understands the emotions and fear. She will always be outraged that there were people standing by who didn’t do anything to stop Derek Chauvin, the officer arrested and charged with third-degree murder in Floyd’s death.
Holmes said the other officers with Chauvin “didn’t have the courage to do love first." She said she is still haunted by some of Floyd’s last words May 25 when Chauvin had his knee on his neck: “Mama, I can’t breathe.”
Local 10 News Washington Correspondent Ross Palombo contributed to this report.