Letters from the Issue of August 29, 2002
Something Is Rotten in the City of Miami
Specifically in its police department -- and I should know: As one of your most loyal readers, I must say that rarely has an article stirred my emotions as much as Tristram Korten's "Travail to the Chief" (August 22). After reading it in its entirety for the third time, I have no choice but to respond.
I've been a police officer for more than twenty years and will retire from the Miami Police Department this February. It may be in my best interest to stick around for a few more years and leave with a pension that would allow me the opportunity of never having to work again, but I would rather leave this institution with my integrity. Unfortunately this will result in having to find employment elsewhere, with the probability of fewer benefits and less pay. However, I would rather retire than risk becoming a hypocrite, like so many people at this department.
For the last couple of years Chief Raul Martinez has posed in front of cameras telling the community how he has rid the police department of corruption. During his appearances he has portrayed indicted officers as Judases to both the department and the community, yet he has omitted other information while doing so.
Why has Chief Martinez failed to mention during interviews that the State Attorney's Office has used knowingly perjured testimony in its attempt to convict an officer? Why does the chief condone the decision of the U.S. Attorney's Office to indict certain officers, who incidentally are all Hispanic, while ignoring non-Hispanics? Why has Chief Martinez not mentioned that the U.S. Attorney's Office, in its zeal to convict, has caused the indictments of four officers with perjured testimony from the so-called victim? Is the chief aware of the victim's criminal past, or that shortly after this individual was released for his cooperation, he assaulted a minor?
If Chief Martinez really believes in these indictments, why has he not questioned the prosecutors' unethical actions? He cannot claim ignorance. I have personally advised him and provided proof of numerous misdeeds, but he has chosen to close his eyes. For someone who has faced investigation himself, the chief should be more cautious in such a situation. Unless, of course, he is trying to hide something.
Now comes the New Times article and I learn about the chief's 1977 prostitution case. If this were not such a serious issue I'd be laughing hysterically. I once thought former President Bill Clinton took the cake when he claimed he didn't inhale and that oral sex was not really sex, but Chief Martinez's explanations outdo Clinton's. Maybe the chief used the same advisors as the president.
The internal-affairs investigation that cleared him can only be described as a complete and total coverup. Unfortunately the public will never discover the investigator's identity because, as reported, the file no longer exists. Now the chief states, "I can tell you that no oral sex was performed on me." Please, who does he think he's fooling? The only thing I'm left wondering about now is whether the other officers involved in the chief's case have also moved up the career ladder. Now, that would most definitely be considered a conspiracy.
You can see why I must retire. The stench of hypocrisy emanates from every pore of this organization. And finally, to those senior officers who were so courageous in coming forward to provide information for the article yet were so cowardly they wouldn't allow their names to be used, I say shame on you. You should make a gracious exit along with Chief Martinez.
Sgt. Rafael Martinez
Yes, we've had our problems, but McDuffie wasn't one of them: I am a proud City of Miami police officer, regardless of the fact that our police department has been through hell. I have no problem owning up to the fact that many of our officers have been involved in scandals. But I do not appreciate taking the rap for another agency's misconduct.
In his article "Travail to the Chief" (August 22), Tristram Korten refers to "Miami police officers" involved in the beating of Arthur McDuffie. Because it is a frequent source of ammunition for New Times writers, let the record show that Miami-Dade (then Dade County Public Safety) officers killed McDuffie. But it makes the article sound better if Miami Police Chief Raul Martinez was rising through the ranks when his peers were out beating McDuffie to death. And because the average reader doesn't know the difference between the City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, Miami Shores, and Miami Beach (to them it's all just Miami), they'll swallow it without thinking twice. That is dishonest and irresponsible journalism at its worst.
Armando R. Aguilar
Editor's note: Officer Aguilar is correct. All those charged in the death of Arthur McDuffie worked for the county police department. The incident, which began when police chased McDuffie on his motorcycle, occurred December 17, 1979. At approximately 1:15 a.m. the chase ended within Miami city limits at North Miami Avenue and 38th Street, where McDuffie was severely beaten. Four days later he died. New Times regrets the error.
Especially when Overtown is Third World poor: This is the first time I have written to New Times, but after reading Kirk Nielsen's article about Miami Commissioner Art Teele ("Teele's [Or]Deal," August 15) I felt compelled to do so. In times like these, during a war against terror and ignorance around the world, we need leaders who promote love and dialogue rather than divisiveness. It is simply wrong for Mr. Teele to call Miami the "most racist city." I have been all over this nation and I've found that Miami has many compassionate and giving people of all colors and races. Instead of hurting our image nationally and internationally, we should focus on positive things we can do to make our city better.
First we should not take tax money -- millions of dollars meant to revitalize Overtown -- and give it to cronies. When I ride through Overtown and see Third World poverty, I say it's criminal to use millions of dollars to build parking lots.
I have experienced firsthand how Mr. Teele operates, and saw how he used Community Redevelopment Agency funds to rob Overtown residents of the All Faiths Church of Divine Mission. That church was an institution, providing free meals and beds for hundreds of less fortunates. I was a member and had contributed thousands of dollars to keep it open. Mr. Teele and the CRA paid more than $250,000 to illegally purchase the church from the estranged family of the late Rev. Clennon King. The family did not own the church; the members of the church and the community owned the property.
Mr. Teele, you should do the right thing and resign. Your antics continue to divide our great city. You fought in Vietnam for your country just as I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King for peace and justice for all.
The demise of Overtown is more complex: Overtown's current depressed state can't be attributed to just one politician or $10.6 million "spent" the same way most taxpayer money is wasted. To understand how Overtown got where it is today (a state of total disarray), one has to understand Overtown's history, Interstate 95, desegregation, the Civil Rights Act, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the growth of government-sector jobs.
Overtown came into existence in the late 1800s and was known as "colored town." This was where the black railroad workers were allowed to live. During the Twenties, Thirties, Forties, and Fifties Overtown flourished, housing many black-owned businesses, including restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, and attorneys' offices. Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Poitier, Muhammad Ali, and many other celebrities performed or stayed in Overtown while visiting Miami. During this time most property in Overtown was owned by blacks. In fact Dana Albert Dorsey, a black millionaire who lived in Overtown, made his fortune in real estate.
Why does Overtown resemble a war-torn Third World country today? In the Sixties some white folks decided that maintaining Overtown as a vibrant community was less important than building I-95 and I-395. The construction of these expressways divided Overtown and displaced many of its residents. On the bright side, around this same time the U.S. government rightfully decided to end government-sponsored segregation. This allowed blacks to move freely into neighborhoods that were once off-limits. Both desegregation and the expressways contributed to an exodus from Overtown.
Though probably launched with the best intentions by the Lyndon Johnson administration, the War on Poverty has claimed as casualties the very same people it was supposed to help. To make matters worse, today there is as much if not more poverty than at the beginning of this campaign. It has created an ever-growing dependent subclass reliant on the government for every facet of its existence.
Naturally all these government programs needed bureaucracies to administer them. This created a surge of growth in government jobs. Blacks were heavily recruited for these positions, which led to a huge drain on what had been a vibrant black entrepreneurial class. As a result black business and property ownership in Overtown is almost nonexistent today.
More than 30 years since its inception, the government's War on Drugs has not made a dent in drug sales or consumption. Despite this irrefutable fact, billions are spent each year on this "war." (In contrast, Prohibition, also a failure, was repealed more than 60 years ago.) Drug laws themselves had racist origins. Marijuana laws were originally passed to make Mexican immigrants more deportable; laws against cocaine were passed largely owing to bogus claims that the drug made black men more liable to rape white women.
These laws have attained their intended consequences. Blacks and Hispanics make up the majority of those arrested for drug offenses. Today in Overtown criminal gangs sell drugs on almost every corner and terrorize local residents. Black youths who lose their civil rights as a result of arrest and conviction also lose their right to vote, further eroding Overtown's power and influence in the electoral process.
So you see, it takes more than one politician and a misspent $10.6 million to destroy a vibrant neighborhood. The question then becomes: How do we fix it? The answer is complicated, beyond any politician or government's comprehension. Perhaps less government intrusion into people's lives, maybe more flexible zoning and land-use restrictions, or waived impact fees in severely depressed areas like Overtown could be solutions. In essence, less government influence, not more. Will these changes create justice and a perfect social order? Will they correct all the errors of the past? No. But they will go a long way toward reviving a Miami neighborhood and making it once again a great place in which to live, work, and be entertained.
A little more reading in Romans is highly recommended: I find New Times's articles to be very interesting and real, but I've never felt so compelled to comment on one as I did with Kirk Nielsen's about black clergy trying to repeal the county law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation ("Between a Frock and a Hard Place," August 15). I feel so sad that people like Rev. Richard Bennett, Jr., are in a position of influence over others who don't know any better -- but trust that he does.
I do not understand how he paraphrased Romans 1:18 as he did, when it actually reads: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." Maybe if he had continued reading to Romans 2:1:
"Therefore you are without excuse, every man of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things."
It seems Reverend Bennett should be preaching to another tune. None of us is any better than anyone else in God's eyes. We are all loved the same and are supposed to treat each other the way we would want others to treat us. If the reverend wants to mix religion with politics, that is what he should be preaching and applying to his own life.
Here's a choice for you -- truth or lies: While recently vacationing in Miami, I read "Between a Frock and a Hard Place," regarding Rev. Richard Bennett's alliance with Take Back Miami-Dade. One thing I find repulsive about having a Republican in the White House is that every unenlightened voice from the right seems empowered to get up on his high horse and spew hatred, no matter how little sense it makes.
It's strange that Reverend Bennett would contend homosexuality is a matter of choice, especially given the language he used: "If I choose a life of homosexuality, that's my choice." I know nothing of Reverend Bennett's history, but his words make it sound as though he were a reformed homosexual living as a heterosexual. Perhaps he's willing to admit he has sexual urges directed at members of the same sex and that he suppresses these feelings in order to live as a heterosexual.
I find it hard to believe, however, that every heterosexual male in Miami-Dade would say heterosexuality is his choice. Of course this is absurd, as absurd as groups like Take Back Miami-Dade trying to coerce us to backpedal after years of struggle to make America a more accepting place. Whether we're born with homosexual proclivities, whether we learn them in our formative years, or whether it's a combination of the two, the only "choice" anyone has in the matter is the choice between living a lie or owning up to who and what we are.
Bronx, New York
And lucky he qualifies for legal protection: It appears that Rev. Richard Bennett, Jr., has put his proverbial foot in his proverbial mouth. He states that he and some of his cult followers (yes, religions are just cults, but with lots of members) want to repeal the 1998 ordinance that added the words "sexual orientation" to the county's human-rights law. His ill-conceived logic is that "homosexualists" weren't born gay but rather chose that lifestyle.
Well, if that's the case, then why is the word "religion" included in the very same ordinance that prohibits discrimination? Reverend Bennett, you weren't born a Christian; you chose that lifestyle. We were all born human beings and each of us has chosen a particular lifestyle. Nobody should rightfully be able to discriminate against any other human being simply because of the lifestyle he or she has chosen. Period.
And who's to say that Jesus wasn't gay? After all, he never married, and some artists' conceptions depict him wearing what could be construed as a long white dress.
I'm a heterosexual, born-again, agnostic male and I plan on voting No on September 10, which will be my personal way of saying "screw you" to the likes of Reverend Bennett, Take Back Miami-Dade's communications director Eladio José Armesto, and all the holier-than-thou assholes who inhabit this county.
Guess that means we can now be smugly dismissive: I fear that Rev. Richard Bennett, Jr., executive director of the African American Council of Christian Clergy, might be construed as speaking for me and for other African-American men in Miami-Dade County. He has been vocal in his opposition to the continuation of including sexual orientation as one of the protected rubrics under the Miami-Dade County human-rights statute. He rationalizes his bigotry this way: "In my situation I'm an African-American male. It was not my decision to come out black, but I am."
In his mind I should be protected from racial discrimination because I did not choose the color of my skin, while my gay and lesbian friends are fair game for bigots on the bash because their sexual preference was their choice and they won't hide in the closet.
Talk about a lack of historical memory. Remembering the history, suffering, and struggle of African Americans, it's unthinkable that Bennett doesn't understand it is not only rational but it is a moral requirement of black men to defend the rights and liberties of anyone and everyone who might suffer discrimination. Or did black men cross over into social, political, and economic nirvana in America while I wasn't looking? Are we suddenly free enough, smug enough, and blind enough to look down our noses at the discriminatory treatment of others?
Hell, let's just talk about common sense. Looking closely at the code words Bennett uses, it is clear he is accusing gays and lesbians of being subhuman owing to their "choice" of a certain "lifestyle" devoted to exploiting innocent youths, which affronts his interpretation of the word of God. Indeed. Jerry Falwell rides again, this time as a black man who has forgotten what happened in Jasper, Texas -- the lynching of a black man dragged behind a pickup truck by white racists.
I "choose" every day to speak out against racism, to struggle against racism, and to expose racism. That makes me suspect to some people. My lifestyle (as a radical intellectual) is one that makes some people uncomfortable. As a radical professor, it has even been said of me in the past that I corrupt youth. Does that mean that I should forfeit my civil rights and civil liberties until I "choose" to shut up and think, act, dress, even make love like I'm told?
Black men, like everyone else, should support the continued protection of gays and lesbians from discrimination and should make our support felt by voting No on September 10 in order to continue that protection.
Rayfield A. Waller
Oh, oh, oh what a guy: In response to Antonio Herrera's letter to the editor (August 1) about Joe Arriola, apparently Mr. Herrera must have the wrong Joe Arriola. The Joe Arriola I know donated one million dollars to the United Way of Miami-Dade County, to name only one of the many organizations to which he contributes. The Joe Arriola I know for fifteen years funded a Thanksgiving dinner for less fortunate families from the City of Opa-locka. He also sponsored annual Christmas toy carnivals for more than 500 children and their families. The Christmas Eve event included a day filled with toys, food, and carnival festivities. In addition Joe Arriola mentored a program for Florida A&M that benefited scholarships for over 50 kids. He also sponsored a similar program for the Rochester Institute of Technology that benefited minority children. I could go on and on in mentioning how he is a true philanthropist, but we wouldn't have time to discuss each topic.
Joe Arriola is not the egotistical, self-centered man Mr. Herrera has portrayed. He is a caring individual who has been very generous in sharing his wealth with this community.
Kelly Barket, Jr.
Just ask any of us: We at the Miami chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) read Mike Clary's article "The Snake Pit" (July 11). Ours is an organization of relatives, friends, and persons with serious and persistent mental illnesses. "Snake Pit" impressed us because it reflected the terrible conditions our dear ones encounter when incarcerated for minor violations committed mostly as a result of their illnesses.
We are available for information regarding the latest scientific research indicating that lack of insight is a nontreatable symptom of severe mental illness. Most inmates with this condition are unable to realize they are suffering from a treatable illness and refuse care or discontinue treatment as soon as they are left without supervision.
The Florida Sheriffs Association sponsored a bill last legislative session that died in committee. The sheriffs are prepared to present a new bill next year -- an expansion of the standards of the Baker Act to allow persons who are seriously mentally ill, but not dangerous to themselves or others, to be involuntarily evaluated and treated if necessary. The sheriffs may also ask to change existing law to allow judges to order -- for short periods of time and after due process -- assisted outpatient treatment already in use in 41 states. This measure will order mentally ill individuals to continue treatment or be rehospitalized.
Rachel H. Diaz, board member
NAMI of Miami
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