The Thick Blue Line

Max Rameau switches gears on how to get a civilian investigative panel focused on county cops

But it proved to be too late. Although Penelas urged passage of the resolution, saying it would give hope to "people who are frustrated and disenfranchised," he also admitted up-front that "the votes are not here today to support this proposal."

That observation proved prophetic. With some 200 anti-review-board police officers who had packed the chambers looking on, only the four black commissioners -- Barbara Carey-Shuler, Dennis Moss, Betty Ferguson, and Rolle -- voted for the Rolle proposal. But none showed any real enthusiasm. Only Ferguson offered any verbal support at all.

Morales, feeling "very much betrayed by folks who had earlier given me strong indication that they were going to defer all this," walked out before the vote on the Rolle proposal in a form of protest. "I'm not going to dance to someone else's tune," he says.

Morales says he did return to the chamber to join the majority in rejecting the Martinez plan. In explaining her two No votes, Commissioner Katy Sorenson said she agreed with Morales that the issue lacked urgency. "This is a solution in search of a problem," said Sorenson. "The police are only getting better."

In the City of Miami a series of questionable police shootings, as well as a corruption scandal that has fourteen officers facing federal charges, galvanized voters to endorse overwhelmingly civilian review with subpoena power. And although Rameau argues that "there is plenty of outrage in the black community" about county cops, too, he concedes that he and other community activists did not do well in channeling that outrage into the commission chambers. The Rev. Al Sharpton, the New York-based civil rights activist, accompanied by police brutality victim and now Florida resident Abner Louima, attended last week's commission meeting, but very few African-Americans who live in Miami-Dade County were there.

Rodriguez-Taseff says that subpoena-powered civilian review of the county police "is dead until the next tragedy happens. The crisis mentality of all knee-jerk politicians [suggests] that they will not address it until something happens or there is a political windfall in the issue."

Given the history of relations between blacks and police in the county, something will happen sometime. "Unless we get rid of all criminals," Rivera allows, "at some point someone else will get hurt or get shot."

So the question then may be: Will it get caught on videotape?

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