Calls for justice and police reform continue to resound around the U.S. following the death of George Floyd, the black man who suffocated when a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee into Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes last month.
While some police unions have voiced support for reforms, others have lashed out at local government officials and critics for pushing accountability measures. The president of the Brevard County Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) was suspended with pay last week pending an investigation into a Facebook post offering jobs to officers accused of violence in other cities.
And a recent email from Miami FOP opens a window into some of the attitudes about reform and officer accountability in the Magic City. In the missive on Monday night, union vice president Matt Reyes told members that "what is going on is a national attack on Law Enforcement." Reyes stated that law enforcement "cannot allow the court of public opinion to rule our profession" and that, no matter how justified the use of force might be, it "never 'looks good.'"
Reyes wrote that while police can't control what politicians will do when under pressure from the public or the media, the union can — and will — "take the offensive."
"We can do this by speaking out about these injustices and letting everyone in our local government know we will not stand for it," Reyes wrote. "We also have amazing attorneys that have shown a great track record of fighting for our rights and winning, as well as bringing officers back to work who have been wrongfully terminated. So if God forbid the worst happens, we will handle it and unleash our attorneys."
Reyes did not respond to a request from New Times to discuss the email.
The New York Times reports that police unions, amid growing political influence and financial resources, have become powerful players in protecting officers accused of misconduct and blocking significant reforms. Some unions claim that more oversight and accountability make officers' jobs more difficult.
Can @MiamiMayor and @Jcolina67 be naive enough to believe the FOP wants to work with the community or his staff on policing issues?— Danny Suarez (@SuarezMiami) June 16, 2020
This is a screen grab from their message. In regards of rehire, they are right, great track record in rehiring bad cops like Reynaldo Goyos. pic.twitter.com/6WWIA3G2fx
Miami's police union president seems to agree. On the widespread condemnation of the officers involved in Floyd's death, "we gave an inch and the mainstream media and extremists are trying to take a mile," Reyes wrote in the email Monday night.
"It is one thing to be angry and protest something that is blatantly and obviously wrong, it is another to use the George Floyd situation to now say every police incident is just as cut and dry; every situation is different," the email stated.
Reyes also discussed the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, which led to the resignation of Atlanta's police chief and the termination of the officer who shot Brooks. Unlike Florida, Georgia doesn't have a Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, which offers officers protection if they're being investigated for actions they performed while on duty.
Reyes called it "INSANE!" that nine Atlanta officers have been suspended and seven charged criminally for on-duty actions and claimed the district attorney "makes a career out of charging cops." Reyes added that the Miami FOP chapter is looking at options to help the Atlanta police union.
Rodney Jacobs Jr., assistant director of the City of Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel, an independent city board that investigates complaints of police misconduct, finds some of the rhetoric in Reyes' email concerning. He said he believes that much of the narrative surrounding police reform is misleading and that reforms should be looked at as collaborative rather than adversarial.
"I don't think overseers want bad policing," Jacobs told New Times. "I don't think police chiefs want bad policing, and I don't think unions should want bad policing. That notion isn't up for debate. We all should work toward eliminating police departments of bad policing practices."
Steve Navarrete, a member of the CIP, said he thinks the email sends the wrong message about Miami police's willingness to engage in reform.
"It seems as though the letter is kind of placing the desires of police over the desires of the public, and that police are above public scrutiny," Navarrete said, adding that he spoke with Reyes about his concerns.
At a time when people are looking for solutions to bridge gaps between police and communities, seeing a letter like the one Reyes sent won't help matters, Navarrete says.
Danny Suarez, a former CIP member who tweeted a snippet of the email, says messages like Reyes' can affect newer officers' judgment by creating a "them versus us" mentality. Suarez says state legislators, police accreditation agencies, state attorney's offices, police chiefs, and local government officials all bear responsibility in breaking the cycles of mistrust between law enforcement and communities.
"Police won't feel attacked if the public has nothing to protest about," Suarez says. "The evidence is overwhelming: Bad cops literally get away with murder. Enough is enough."
Navarette believes that it would be a good start if officers appeared before the CIP when complaints are filed against them and if the police chief took action on the board's recommendations — neither of which currently takes place.
"When you come to CIP and file a complaint with us, we ask the officer to appear, to hear from them," Navarette said. "And if that officer doesn't appear and participate, well, then his silence speaks volumes."
Here's the full text of Reyes' email to Miami FOP members:
First, let me start by saying WE HAVE YOUR SIX! We want all of you to do what you have to do to make it home. You will have the full force of the FOP and our resources at your back.
I Had a 30 min call earlier with the President of the Atlanta PD Union. The stuff I was told is unbelievable; for those that don’t know Georgia is a State that doesn't have an Officer Bill Of Rights. They currently have 9 Officers Suspended and 7 being charged criminally for actions they took on duty. It's INSANE! Apparently they have a district attorney whom makes a career out of charging cops, ironically the DA is under investigation for many reasons by the GA Bureau of Investigations. He even told me a story which is almost identical to their current situation where an Officer shot an offender who took his asp and they tried to charge that Officer too, unsuccessfully.
All this being said we (your FOP) are exploring some options for assisting them in their fight because it is OUR fight as well. If you haven't noticed yet, what is going on is a national attack on Law Enforcement. It is one thing to be angry and protest something that is blatantly and obviously wrong, it is another to use the George Floyd situation to now say every Police incident is just as cut and dry; every situation is different. The majority of us jumped all over what happened in Minneapolis as being WRONG, we owned that he was a bad cop that did a bad thing. It is time that people in the movement own that they have bad apples as well. We gave an inch and the mainstream media and extremists are trying to take a mile.
We cannot allow the court of public opinion to rule our profession, because let's face it, their would be no winning because a use of force no matter how justified never "looks good". It's not meant to, if someone is resisting and we are using force against them it is not a good or pretty thing, what matters is that it is legal and justified. We have spoken with our Chief and as he stated on FOX news he does not agree with the firing of the Atlanta Officer and believes that as always with shootings there should be an investigation to determine how/why/what happened and if it was justified or not. We must be afforded the same due process everyone else gets.
That being said we cannot control what staff or politicians will do when the pressure is on from the public or media; what we can do however, is take the offensive. We can do this by speaking out about these injustices and letting everyone in our local government know that we will not stand for it. We also have amazing attorneys that have shown a great track record of fighting for our rights and winning, as well as bringing officers back to work who have been wrongfully terminated. So if God forbid the worst happens, we will handle it and unleash our attorneys. If you have any questions or have any concerns in the mean time that you want to be addressed with the staff please bring them to our attention, also we are putting together our own after action of the field force because we want to ensure that all of the issues that were seen on the floor level are heard. Please email or contact us with critiques or concerns for that specifically as well.