National condemnation has been swift today after video showed Charles Kinsey, an unarmed black behavioral tech trying to help an autistic patient, holding his arms in the air before a North Miami Police officer shoots him. But Miami's two most prominent police union chiefs have now leaped to the officer's defense.
John Rivera, who leads the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, says the officer was actually trying to protect Kinsey because he believed the autistic man, who was holding a toy truck, had a gun — but then he accidentally shot Kinsey instead. Both Rivera and Javier Ortiz, head of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, then slammed news stories of the shooting as "sensationalism."
"Be responsible in your reporting," Rivera told reporters earlier today. "We're asking the community to please allow facts — not sensationalism, not politics — facts to allow to work their way through the system."
The facts of the video seem clear enough, although the cell-phone-camera footage doesn't show the shooting itself.
After a 911 caller reported a man with a gun in the area, North Miami Police officers cornered Kinsey, a behavioral technician at a nearby group home, and the autistic man he was with. Kinsey, lying on his back with his hands in the air, shouts to police that they've misunderstood the situation.
"I am a behavior tech at the group home," Kinsey yells in the video. "That's all it is." Kinsey later told Channel 7 news that after the cop fired on him, he asked him why.
"I’m saying, ‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ and his words to me were, ‘I don’t know,'” he told WSVN.
But in a 20-minute news conference today, Rivera pushed back against Kinsey's criticisms. He said the officers thought the autistic man, whom Rivera identified as a "white male," was carrying a gun and about to shoot Kinsey.
(Rivera, incidentally, repeatedly mispronounces Kinsey's name as "Kinsley.")
"It appeared to the officers that the white male was trying to do harm to Mr. Kinsey," Rivera said. "The officers, realizing and believing that there was a firearm — many officers thought the white male had a firearm. Only much later, when we're able to 'Monday-morning quarterback,' do we find out that it's a toy."
Ortiz, meanwhile — an outspoken figure in Miami who famously called for a police boycott of Beyoncé's concerts after her black-power-referencing Super Bowl performance in January — said via Facebook that the shooting was "sensationalism at its best."
"I DOUBT the police officer said anything," Ortiz wrote. New Times was not able to reach Ortiz via phone. "And, I assure you there is more to this story," he added. "Sensationalism at its best."
Earlier this month, Ortiz also called the shooting of Baton Rouge's Alton Sterling "more than justified."
On Twitter, Ortiz continued: "If I was a betting man, he was aiming at the other man and missed."
In the meantime, North Miami Police have opened a hotline for public comments about the shooting:
Our Police Department has opened a hotline for community comments. Please call 305-547-8644.— North Miami PD (@NorthMiamiPD) July 21, 2016
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Earlier this month, Horacio Stuart Aguirre, who heads the City of Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, which investigates complaints against police, worried that recent comments from Miami's police union heads were setting a bad example for other officers.
Update: The Dream Defenders, one of the largest racial-equality groups in Florida, has said via Twitter that it will hold a peaceful protest in North Miami tonight.