African-American Community Protests Police Union President's Racist Comments

On Sunday, Miami-Dade police union president John Rivera spoke on Raquel Regalado’s weekly Spanish-language show, Esta Semana Con Raquel. With the school board member, Rivera discussed Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s push for body cameras in the wake of riots in Ferguson, Missouri. “He is so desperate to try to gain favor in the African-American community,” Rivera explained in Spanish, “because they are the ones who are pushing this.”

He went on. “So statistically speaking we don't have those problems here like in Ferguson, and speaking about Ferguson, the grand jury held that the officer behaved well and acted justly. But Ferguson is still being used as an example.”

Members of the African-American community were offended by the comments. They alleging that Rivera dismissed their concerns about safety and police brutality to help the mayor. Some feel that Rivera wouldn’t have spoken so freely in English.

“He made it seem like members of the African-American community are used as pawns for cameras on cops, when really it protects everyone,” Harris Harrigan, a community activist, tells New Times. “Putting cameras on cops has nothing to do with politics at all, it’s about safety — for everyone.”

Harrigan explains that members of the African-American community are asking for an apology from Rivera. “He was being insensitive to a tragic situation. It’s just not right,” Harrigan says.

But Rivera stands by what he said, telling New Times that he is “totally against body cameras” and that Miami-Dade police, “don’t have the problem going on in Ferguson.” He adds: “The mayor has done nothing for the black community when he’s been a mayor and now he’s trying to win favors. I’m actually on their side.”

After the riots in Ferguson, Gimenez pushed for county police to start wearing body cameras, allocating $1 million in the 2015 budget for 500 cameras that  officers would start wearing by the end of this year. Over the last few months the police union and a few commissioners tried to hinder Gimenez’s efforts, but earlier this month county commissioners (in an 11-2 vote) endorsed spending up to $5 million on this kind of technology over the next five years.

Harrigan says there will be a protest 11 a.m. Thursday outside Rivera’s office at the Police Benevolent Association in Doral. The protesters  will wait for Rivera to offer an apology for his comments.

“I’m not sure what the protest is all about,” Rivera says. “I’ll go out and give them water, make sure they’re not too hot.”
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson