Defunding Police Departments And Other Reforms Drive South Florida Protests

Jun 12, 2020

Protesters and advocates are calling for major criminal justice reforms in response to the deaths of many black Americans by police — including the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

In South Florida, some activists have rallied against Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. They’ve criticized her record for rarely bringing forth charges on law enforcement officers involved in non-fatal shootings. She’s never charged an officer for an on-duty killing.

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LISTEN: Rundle On Prosecuting Officer Shootings As Protests Continue

Rundle is up for re-election this year. She’s running against another Democrat in the August primary — Melba Pearson, a former Miami-Dade prosecutor and former deputy director of Miami's chapter of American Civil Liberties Union.

"There has to be the political will to be able to do what is right and to be able to bring closure to these families who are grieving and have no other redress within the criminal system if the State Attorney falls down on the job," said Pearson on the Roundup.

The show also discussed the ongoing calls for defunding of police departments and the role of unions in those efforts. Host Tom Hudson spoke with Jasmen Rogers-Shaw, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Alliance Broward, and Steadman Stahl, president of the South Florida Benevolent Association and a sergeant with the Miami-Dade Police Department.

Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: What does the effort to defund the police mean?

JASMEN ROGERS-SHAW: It's about a reallocation of resources. In so many municipalities and states across the country, police are taking up a significant amount of government budgets. So what we're calling for is a reinvestment of the dollars into social work, into domestic violence prevention, into responding to mental health in our communities, into curbing homelessness. Things that, even before a pandemic, were bad and need to be addressed. And now that we're in this moment, have highlighted just how much those services are under-resourced.

HUDSON: Is the idea then to take current dollars away from municipal police budgets?

ROGERS-SHAW: It's a reimagining of what we have right now and how we can re-prioritize that money to be back into community and directly impact people and the services they need. And what we believe is that if we're able to do those things, then the interactions with police can look very different. The ways that we need police in our community can look very different.

HUDSON: Is there a role for law enforcement that remains in your imagination of a defund-the-police process?

ROGERS-SHAW: I think that we all have a duty to each other and to the health of our country to reimagine what public safety looks like. From one state to another, different behaviors are criminalized. Different things are seen as legal or illegal. People are going to jail for driving on a suspended license [for example]. I think we need to reimagine what safety actually looks like for everyone.

HUDSON: Steadman, what do you make of the calls that Jasmen and others are talking about regarding defunding police departments, or moving funds away from the current public safety departments into more social services?

STEADMAN STAHL: The problem is I don't know what group to listen to. Throughout the country, we're seeing — and I hear what the young lady says in Broward — that to move funds from a department and put it into other areas. And in other parts of the country is to do away the police department altogether. The one basic thing I think that everybody in our community wants is a safe environment.

In Miami-Dade County, where I represent and what we've done, is we've been very proactive with the community. Bringing in community leaders into our academy classes with the officers to bridge those gaps. And I think we've done a great job here and maybe we should become a little bit of a role model throughout the country. Are we there yet? No, we we still have a ways to go.

But to take away funds from the police department. Who do you think is going to suffer on that? July 4th is coming up, and I'll promise you, you'll see a press conference where they'll ask the police officers to stand out there to denounce the guns being shot into the air, to do more enforcement in the neighborhoods.

HUDSON: Let me have Jasmen respond to that, because I think that's part of this conversation. You're right. There's lots of different calls across the state. But let's focus here on South Florida.

ROGERS-SHAW: I want to emphasize the reimagining of public safety. Police haven't always existed in this country and particularly not in the way that they are right now. So what we're calling for is, is it necessary to arrest someone for driving on a suspended license and put them in jail for not paying a fine? Is it necessary to lock folks up for marijuana charges where in some parts of this country you can start a thriving business based on that same marijuana? Is it necessary for us to have police engage as mental health counselors in school, as social workers, as like all these different roles?

HUDSON: Those are criminal justice reform efforts. No doubt about it. But those are not at the police law enforcement budget level, right? Those are at really policy level and political leaders making those decisions.

ROGERS-SHAW: Absolutely. And within that political system, there are police unions and police lobbyists that are advocating for and against certain things. And to be clear, none of these systems act on their own. They all interact with each other. So policing is just one system that contributes to all of the issues and all of the things that are being highlighted in the protests right now. So it's central to it, but there's still so much more.

The transcript of this interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.