More than a week after a video surfaced of a Miami officer appearing to jump on a handcuffed suspect in the Liberty Square housing projects, residents and activists in the neighborhood are still talking about the confrontation.
One of those residents was Dorothy, who was inside the Liberty Square Community Center one recent afternoon discussing the video.
The 47-second video shows Miami Officer John Hinson walking a handcuffed man to a patrol car. And then, suddenly, Hinson appears to strike the man and jump on top of him.
Dorothy said this isn’t the first time someone has complained about being roughed up by a police officer in the housing projects, which is patrolled the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County police officers.
“This ain’t the first time they done jumped on these kids out here when they arrest them,” she said. “This is the first time someone was there with a camera to show it.”
Dorothy declined to give her last name saying she feared retaliation from the police.
Officer Hinson has been suspended pending the outcome of an internal affairs investigation. Hinson declined to be interviewed for this story through a police department spokeswoman.
Tony Zaldivar, the handcuffed man in the video, said Hinson hit him.
“He surprisingly sucker punched me,” said Zaldivar, who was arrested for trespassing.
The Miami Police Department has been working to build trust and relationships in the Liberty City community with mixed results. Much of the department’s efforts are concentrated in the Liberty Square housing projects where gang activity and shootings are rampant.
Miami Police Chief Rodolpho Llanes wrote in an email that Hinson's reaction in the video “is not one that the police department tolerates and the community deserves better.”
Eric Thompson, a member of the Liberty Square Council, said incidents like this one set back the progress the police department and individual officers have made in Liberty City.
“It hurts what we’re trying to build,” he said. “For years we’ve been trying to bridge this gap between law enforcement and the community.”
Further damaging that progress, he added, is Miami’s police union’s response to the video.
Lt. Javier Ortiz, the union president, issued a press release criticizing a young woman on Facebook who posted the video. At the time, he believed she captured the video. In the release, Ortiz included photos from the young woman’s Facebook page that show young men holding guns.
That Facebook page has since been taken down.
Thompson said Ortiz’s actions were retaliatory.
“It’s saying if you report a police officer who does something wrong, ‘We’re going to put you out there for everyone to know who you are,’” said Thompson. “You become a target.”
Ortiz said he’s received criticism about his press release from people like Thompson who think he was trying to intimidate the Facebook poster, but he said he isn’t backing down.
“I stand by it,” said Ortiz, who said he was concerned by the photos.
Ortiz blames the community outrage on social media and Black Lives Matter, a social justice movement that has focused on police brutality against black men and women.
“I know there's this big push for Black Lives Matter throughout the United States and, you know, I personally feel that it's out of ignorance,” he said. “It's almost as if it's racist.”
Nationwide, there is a conversation happening around policing in black communities. Citizen videotapes of police encounters have triggered many of the protests and demands for reform.
Back in the Liberty Square housing projects, some activists are now encouraging residents to capture all police encounters on their cell phones.
They say if there was no video of Officer Hinson appearing to hit Zaldivar, the accusation may not have been taken seriously and there might not be an investigation.
Cheryl Hubbard, who lives in Liberty City, said residents should be empowered to videotape police interactions because citizen oversight is important and powerful. Hubbard is working on a guide to videotaping police officers to pass out.
“I want to encourage them,” she said. “You can’t have fear, you can’t be afraid.”