MIAMI – Thursday’s unveiling of a specially-wrapped Miami police SUV celebrating Black History Month came with fanfare at Miami’s Historic Black Police Precinct in Overtown, but the reaction on social media was a different story.
The cruiser features pan-African colors, raised fists and outlines of Africa.
But the design left a lot to be desired among social media commenters and so did its timing. It came amid a renewed conversation about police brutality and police reform after the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five Memphis police officers.
“THIS CANNOT BE,” Sherrilyn Ifill, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, tweeted in response to a video posted of the unveiling.
THIS CANNOT BE.— Sherrilyn Ifill (@SIfill_) February 2, 2023
MSNBC legal analyst Charles F. Coleman Jr. called the unveiling “tone deaf performative action.”
Self-described community organizer Mike Rivero tweeted: “Instead on focusing on community policing, sensitivity training, increase mental health professionals in policing, etc.. the Miami police department did this.”
Instead on focusing on community policing, sensitivity training, increase mental health professionals in policing, etc.. the Miami police department did this. 🤦🏻♂️ @CityofMiami @MiamiPD https://t.co/zoVMYKGYwM— Mike Rivero (@MikeRivero_FL) February 2, 2023
“Many of our members of the NAACP locally and across the state reached out to us in shock, they could not believe that at a time like this, an urgency for action, an urgency for change that we would get another symbolic gesture,” NAACP Miami-Dade Branch President Daniella Pierre said.
Pierre said the country “need(s) police reform the most” and explained the historical undercurrents underpinning the scrutiny.
“No matter what you put on the vehicle it is what is happening when they are outside the vehicle that is what we are concerned about,” she said.
One prominent local critic of the design was Rodney W. Jacobs Jr., the executive director of the city’s Civilian Investigative Panel, which investigates officers accused of misconduct.
In a tweet, he suggested the department should have “run this by a few people first.”
To community leaders who explain the historical undercurrents that underpin some of the scrutiny and current backlash. What is clear is the car has sparked a community conversation…about #communitypolicing https://t.co/uMtyIF2YBs and #policereform. https://t.co/ZoKuK5XWTg pic.twitter.com/RsjzqVw7Vx— Christina Boomer Vazquez, M.S. (@CBoomerVazquez) February 3, 2023
Jacobs called the unveiling badly-timed.
“I think in the backdrop of a lot of what we see, obviously in Tennessee and some of the protests we are seeing around the nation, it was just mistimed,” he said. “I just think on the backdrop of it, when you have people asking so much for police departments, especially Black and brown people and you offer them, ‘here’s a car with a police wrap,’ then it is going to fall flat for most people.”
The Black Miami police officers who championed the design see things differently than the critics.
Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix, the president of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, an organization representing the Miami Police Department’s Black officers, spoke to South Florida media outlets on Friday following the controversy.
“We sponsored it and we thought it was beautiful,” Jean-Poix said.
Jean-Poix was joined by the MCPBA’s vice president, Lt. Ramon Carr and MPD Chief Manny Morales.
“For us, it is a sense of pride,” Carr said. “We understand what policing means to the African American community and we are proud of that, we are proud that we are here and changing the narrative of what is going on.”
Jean-Poix said the wrap cost about $2,500 and no taxpayer money was used since it was paid for by his organization. He said two Black officers, Officer Anthony Reyes and Sgt. Jerome Wilson, and a local Black artist, Anthony Lumpkin, were involved in designing the wrap.
Jean-Poix, along with Carr, said the swift backlash left them stunned.
“It was displayed in the MLK parade, we got a lot of praise for it, and so we are kind of like in shock, like why are people so upset now?” Jean-Poix said.
“We sponsored it and we thought it was beautiful. It was displayed in the MLK parade, we got a lot of praise from it, and so we are kind of like in shock, like why are people so upset now?” -Sgt. Stanley Jean-Poix, President of Miami Community Police Benevolent Association pic.twitter.com/jtxCADjHew— Christina Boomer Vazquez, M.S. (@CBoomerVazquez) February 3, 2023
“Even with the symbol of Africa, we say we are African American so we can’t put Africa there?” Carr said. “We are from Africa.”
The wrap dovetailed with the release of a new Black History Month badge that officers can wear while on duty. $20 from the sale of each badge, which is engraved with the names of Miami’s first five Black officers, goes to support the The Black Precinct Courthouse and Museum.
The cruiser was also designed to honor those officers, Morales said.
“Sometimes the timing of things that comes out may not be right, so we understand that, but it wasn’t done to be disrespectful or untasteful to anyone,” Carr said. “We just wanted to celebrate African American history in our police department, something that we are proud of. I am glad that this happened, actually, because this gives us the opportunity as a police department to communicate with other people.”
“Sometimes controversy is not always bad, sometimes controversy is good to get us really talking,” he said.
Jacobs said in spite what he feels bad timing, he believes the design was “well-intentioned.”
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the art itself and also for Stanley and Lt. Carr,” Jacobs said. “I really think they were well-intentioned with what they were trying to do, I just think sometimes good intentions have a different kinds of impact.”
Jacobs said now that the community knows that the design came from the Black police union, “it gives a different kind of respect for the art.”
When asked whether the department planned to remove the cruiser design following the backlash, Morales rebuffed the notion.
“For us to take a step back after we decided and make a determination to pay homage and respect to those individuals (the first five Black patrolmen) that made that sacrifice would be nothing short of disrespectful to them,” Morales said.
The cruiser flap came two days after race relations in the department were at center stage, during a whistleblower hearing at Miami City Hall, where a former Black department commander claimed the chief targeted department staff who reported corruption and department racism.
Morales denied those allegations.