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Racial And Social Justice Dialogue After Chauvin Verdict, And Remembering A Miami Man Killed By Police In 1979

Arthur McDuffie, an insurance salesman and ex-Marine, is shown in a family photo.

The trial of the former Minneapolis police officer, for the killing of George Floyd last year, came to an end this week.

Derek Chauvin was found guilty by a jury on three charges relating to the death of Floyd.

It was a killing that sparked demonstrations across the world last spring and summer, including in South Florida. And led to the high profile prosecution of a police officer who was convicted of murder.

Key West resident Peggy Ward-Grant shared her reaction to the verdict with WLRN. She served as president of the NAACP for the city in the 1990s.

“For us Black parents, as Black people, it gives us some hope,” Ward-Grant said.

Kris Torres is a 23-year-old community organizer. She was at home in Davie with parents when she heard the verdict.

“As far as Derek Chauvin being found guilty it’s a step, but I hope people don’t hear that and stop marching and stop the [racial justice] movement, and stop doing any of that,” Torres said.

The George Floyd killing mobilized people all over the world to speak out and demonstrate against systemic racism and police violence.

To explore how the dialogue George Floyd’s murder led to will continue in a constructive way, the South Florida Roundup hosted a panel discussion featuring: Florida International University Police Captain and public information officer Delrish Moss, Bishop Melvin Pinkney of New Life Zion Temple in Lake Worth Beach and criminologist and chair of the University of Miami’s department of sociology and arts and sciences, Dr. Alexis Piquero.

Here is an excerpt of their conversation. It has been edited for clarity.

WLRN: Delrish Moss, you served in the Miami City Police Department. You were the police chief in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. Is there a broader message in this week's guilty verdict in Minneapolis for law enforcement?

DELRISH MOSS: Well, it's hard to say if there's a broader message, because clearly we saw in this trial that Derek Chauvin was not acting under the policies of the police department, nor was he acting within the law. So it may send some message to police officers who think to run afoul the law. I don't know that it resonates into a broader message for law enforcement.

Bishop Melvin Pinkney, you told a WLRN reporter earlier this week that you were worried ahead of the Chauvin trial verdict. Share with us what worried you before this verdict in Minneapolis?

Melvin Pinkney: Well, for people of color, you know, we’ve seen too much — even going way back to the Rodney King beating — you know, we just saw police brutality. And I'm not against the police. I'm not for defunding the police. You know, we need our police officers. We need them, they do great work. But we all know there's bad apples in all bunches and we’ve got to wean them out. Their colleagues are going to have to call them out because we don't want to continue on this track that we’re on with all of these killings. Policing is a tough job. I can't imagine, you know, having to make a decision in a quick second and all that because that’s not what I do.

I was saying to my wife, "man, if this goes the wrong way, my faith in the justice system is out the window." That’s how I was feeling. We have seen footage, and if this goes the wrong way, What? Are my eyes lying to me now?

On the issue of trust, Dr. Alexis Piquero, what are the tools that law enforcement departments are using and the tools that community groups are using to recognize trust as a really fundamental cornerstone issue and engender it?

ALEXIS PIQUERO: So we have to tone down the volume among everybody. We have to tone down the volume of "let's eliminate the police" or as the bishop said, or defund the police. We need the police in some capacity. Now, we have to reimagine what the police role is because police departments have gotten more and more things put upon them. So independent of that, there needs to be communication. So, community boards that work with the police department, not isolated from the police department.

Transparency, people having conversations and meetings, letting people see the inner workings of the police department so people can see what the role of those officers are on a day to day basis. The more we can have people at the table, the more we will have trust and trust builds legitimacy. And that's the bedrock of any effective police community partnership.

Remembering Arthur McDuffie

More than 40 years ago, Miami erupted following the killing of Arthur Lee McDuffie by Miami-Dade police.

McDuffie was 33 years old. He was an insurance agent and Marine Corps veteran. He was beaten into a coma by white Dade County police officers after he ran a red light on his motorcycle. He died several days later from his injuries.

An investigation led to arrests and prosecution. A judge moved the case to Tampa where an all-white jury acquitted the officers, prompting public outcry and the May 1980 McDuffie uprising in Miami.

Last year, a Miami-based filmmaker Dudley Alexis made When Liberty Burns, a documentary that highlights the life and death of McDuffie.

Lonnie Lawrence is featured in the documentary. He was a friend of McDuffie’s. He is also a retired Miami-Dade Corrections Department Director and public information officer.

Lawrence said there are some parallels in the killings of George Floyd and McDuffie.

“I think the references to it are legitimate references in the sense that it points out inequality in terms of what happens in cases of some black men compared to others,” Lawrence said. “I think the difference is that [Chauvin’s] jury decided to not back away from doing what needed to be done, and did what they needed to do.”

Lawrence said as a society it is useful to look at similarities between cases like Floyd’s and McDuffie, but people should look at the bigger picture.

“The question becomes, did anything change from 1980 and will anything change from 2021? What has changed?" Lawrence asked. "Will there be any difference in how police relate to black and brown communities as opposed to others? Will there be any change in the criminal justice system as a whole?”

The Historic Lyric Theater will have screenings of "When Liberty Burns" in May.

Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.