Days of El Portal's Lives

This tiny village is one of the county's most diverse, and boy do they fight about it

Until a few weeks ago, Michael the Black Man was broadcasting a series of sermonlike programs on an FM station that identified itself as WBOS, BOSS 104.1. Those call letters belong to a popular FM station in Boston, though, and the Miami station did not have an FCC permit to be on the air.

Nevertheless Michael seemed to attract a large audience for the bogus WBOS, much of it in El Portal, where residents tuned in to hear him and frequent guest Fred Thomas lambaste the village police, elected officials, and Daisy Black.

One of Michael's principal aims was to convince his black listeners to convert to the Republican Party. Quoting Scripture and condemning the "Demon-crats" as "slave masters" allied with the Ku Klux Klan, Michael and Thomas lumped Daisy Black in there with the forces of darkness, calling her a "devil" and advocating she be "set on fire." (Michael repeatedly hung up on calls from New Times to his cell phone.)

Fred Thomas: First black police chief of El Portal, gospel music maestro, and on the warpath
Steve Satterwhite
Fred Thomas: First black police chief of El Portal, gospel music maestro, and on the warpath
Current mayor Audrey Edmonson has brought improvement projects to the village, but she's dissed for advocating "affordable housing"
Steve Satterwhite
Current mayor Audrey Edmonson has brought improvement projects to the village, but she's dissed for advocating "affordable housing"

Daisy Black had no luck getting a response from Michael, either, after she requested a tape of one of his programs. "He said all kinds of things about me, and I called the station to request a copy," Black recalls. "The next day I heard Michael on the air saying, 'Daisy Black wants a copy of my show, but she'll never get anything from me!'"

Black, a substitute teacher at Horace Mann Middle School in El Portal, says she used to listen to the show driving to and from school. Black is the daughter and granddaughter of Bahamian immigrants, has worked since the age of fourteen, and is rarely disposed to put up with excesses of any sort. "One time," Black continues, "I heard Michael screaming, 'Daisy Black, I hate you!'" She pauses, her expression impassive; the caustic words hang in the air for a second. "I have no idea who this man is. He doesn't know me. After that I just stopped listening."

But Fred Thomas does know her. Which is part of the reason a Yahweh protégé was up to such on-air antics. Back in 1997 Daisy Black got Thomas fired from his job as El Portal's police chief. Ever since, Thomas and a handful of allies have been on the warpath, proclaiming whenever possible charges of corruption and malfeasance against Black and some of the El Portal police force. Thomas's detractors, in turn, accuse him of throwing stones from a glass house: Among other allegations against him are falsifying police records and domestic violence. The claims on both sides remain either unproven or not legally actionable.

From El Portal's earliest years, there are accounts of fistfights between village politicos. Like the one during the 1996 election, when newly hired police chief Thomas punched his newly fired predecessor, Zane Mason, outside a polling station. Thomas accused Mason, who was then a council candidate, of hurling racial slurs (Thomas is black, Mason white), physically threatening him, and then, after Thomas had knocked him down, spitting "blood and slobber" at the chief. Thomas was unsuccessful in his attempts to have Mason charged with battery on a law enforcement officer. Mason did win the election, though, and five months later voted with the council majority to fire Thomas.

But Thomas and his allies weren't about to call it quits. In ensuing years one council member applied for a restraining order against a Thomas supporter who was allegedly harassing and intimidating officials to force them to rehire Thomas. In 2000 two council members launched a brief campaign to bring him back as an "unpaid deputy chief." Many townspeople disapproved of this notion, mostly because Thomas was at the same time suing the village for job discrimination and would later receive a payment of more than $50,000 from El Portal's insurance carrier to drop the case.

That still was not the end of it for Thomas, now 62 years old, a former Hialeah police officer and long-time Carol City resident. He and his new friend Michael the Black Man didn't limit their crusade to pirated airwaves. On at least two occasions this past April and May, about a dozen protesters (who didn't live in El Portal and had not applied for a picketing permit) pulled up in a van across the street from El Portal Village Hall. The demonstrators stayed on the north side of NE 87th Street, technically in Miami Shores, calling for the riddance of the "criminals" in the police department and the "evil" Daisy Black. El Portal officers and village hall workers who happened to witness the demonstrations recognized only one of the participants, Fred Thomas.

In April Thomas and Michael, both African American, appeared on a Kreyol-language AM radio station and added a new ethnic element to their battle; they accused the majority of the El Portal village council members and the police department of holding anti-Haitian views and forcing (via code enforcement, fines, liens, and so on) some Haitian homeowners to move out of the village. Two Haitian council members have been voted out of office since 2000, leaving just one Haitian on the body, and the ex-council members believe their opponents used anti-Haitian and illegal tactics to defeat them.

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