In the middle of a national debate on police brutality and race relations, we brought together a group of black male leaders in Miami to talk about how it is affecting them and their community and what can be done to begin addressing these issues.
While this is an issue that affects the black community as a whole, we know that men are disproportionately affected by police brutality and gun violence, and that’s why we chose these participants for the discussion. But this is only the first such discussion. We plan to have many more, and those will have different participants chosen based on the topics on the agenda.
Below is the video of that conversation, followed by a transcript.
Ariel Zirulnick, Executive Editor of The New Tropic
Daniel (Danny) Agnew, an organizer with Dream Defenders
Justin Pinn, a program coordinator and StarBot Academy coordinator with Breakthrough Miami
James Mungin, a community organizer in Liberty City
Marlon Hill, a partner in the Miami office of law firm Hamilton Miller
Marvin Wilmoth, vice president development at the real estate firm KCG
Webber Charles, site coordinator of Breakthrough Miami at Ransom Everglades
Thanks to BMe Community for their support in making this happen.
(The video goes right side up after about a minute.)
This is a rough transcript of the conversation. There may be slight discrepancies. If you would like to get the conversation verbatim, please watch the video above.
ARIEL: The first question: In the last 24 hours this national conversation we’ve been having has landed here in Miami with the shooting of Charles Kinsey in North Miami. How does it feel to have this national conversation land in our backyard? Take it away.
JAMES: It’s about time. Tourism is always clouding everything. So it ain’t like it ain’t been happening. We could go far back. I can go in the history. As far back as when we couldn’t go on the beach and we had to have a work permit. It’s just an evolution of it. You know what I’m saying. This ain’t no… We can talk about McDuffie but there were countless others before him and countless others after him. You look at Little Haiti and a lot of the Haitians have been getting killed by the City of Miami police. They was in the streets but that don’t justify y’all goin’ after him. You feel me? This happens every day. Tourism, it’s a $6 billion industry here in Miami. You know what I’m saying? It’s how we make our money from day one. Before Flagler even came down here we was big on tourism. So that’s how they make they money. Everything gets wiped away in tourism, you know they gotta keep everything under wraps for tourism. They don’t want to mess up the money.
MARLON: This conversation is really even not just our conversation and among the brothers that look like us, but this conversation is for everyone in America and everyone in the City of North Miami. So for the listeners and viewers who might not know, the City of North Miami is the fourth largest city in Miami-Dade County and it’s a city that’s known, after seven years it’s predominantly black and predominantly Haitian, right? We don’t even know the facts with Charles’ case yet and that’s exactly what were the circumstances, but the bottom line is another person that looks like you and looks like me is unarmed and shot by a law enforcement officer and that’s something that everybody should be concerned about.
JUSTIN: I completely agree and having someone that looks like you and having these things go around the nation and in your own backyard, it makes it much tougher, especially when the person completely complied with an officer and their lives could have been still at risk. It makes it much tougher to have that conversation that you are safe no matter what. And I think as a community we have to have a serious conversation with law enforcement, community members, and actually get solutions.There are too many tragedies and like my brother over here said, it happens every day, it just doesn’t get broadcasted.
DANNY: Yeah, it’s coming full circle. So the start of a lot of movements that have been active in communities across the nation was around something that happened in Florida, it was Trayvon Martin. The Dream Defenders formed IN the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing. So what we see is that from the beginning of everyone started to get active and everyone started to pay attention to all the crimes and the travesties that were happening in our communities, folks started to wake up. Now we’re seeing when we hear about the stories that happen not only in here in Florida but across the nation that people are mobilizing because they’ve been educating themselves about the system, how it works and how against it they are. So right now I think it’s the opportunity for, and I’m glad the brother is still alive to speak about it, but it’s an opportunity for people to mobilize and get real change to happen in our communities because it happens every day. There have been several cases where I’ve been involved in, in Florida, where police officers have killed individuals and have gotten off. There’s probably never been a case where a police officer has been in a killing and has ever gotten charged. So we can highlight this incident and we can start to see if we can get some real change within the police force and the last point I’ll make — a lot of times when we see these killings in our communities of color these officers aren’t coming from Miami Gardens, Liberty City, Overtown and Opa-Locka. They’re getting shipped from New York, and other communities that don’t look like them so they don’t identify with the people that live there. So it creates this disconnect where it’s kind of easy to get away with killing or shooting someone because you don’t know their plight or their struggle. So we’ve got to start at the root. We’ve really gotta get warm to our communities, we have to build relationships with certain officers so that we can start to change it from the inside out.
ARIEL: I want to talk a little bit more about what we need to change about how policing is done here locally. Are there initiatives underway that that seem promising? What kind of conversations need to happen to address some of the issues you’ve brought up?
MARVIN: I think there’s been a lot of success with community policing, when police officers know the folks and the beats that they’re traveling. I grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by police officers and I felt very safe there because I knew that the police officers knew me. I did not have many instances of having issues with police officers. Because of that, when I stepped outside of that safety zone, I didn’t have that same safety net there.
I think another thing that needs to be talked about is monetization of the criminal justice system. Privatization of prisons and excessive violence disproportionately affect communities, not just of color but lower socioeconomic backgrounds and and it puts them in a cycle whereby whereas you wouldn’t get pulled over for any ony number of things, you now have fines that you can’t otherwise afford to pay, you’re getting pulled over more often. It trickles down into now you’re having more folks pulled over for minor offences. I think we definitely need to take another look at the monetization of putting people in prisons and finding them as a source of revenue for metropolitan cities.
JUSTIN: I think Marvin’s definitely right on that. And I think also that militarization of police is something we should take a look at. It comes back to community policing. In most communities, you see police officers show up in these communities when there’s something wrong. One thing our officers have to understand in terms of training is empathy, cultural competency, but also you’re not warriors, you’re guardians for the community. This is not Iraq, this is not Afghanistan you are there to be a guardian for the community.
MARLON: My best friend is a chief of police and so is my nephew. One of the first things I did was called my nephew and ask them “What are you feeling? What are you doing?” I asked them how they’re approaching work. Have they talked to anybody? AT its core, this is really about broken relationships. Call your chief of police, call your commander in your neighborhood and say my name is Danny. You’ve never met me before, I’d love to come by and talk with you. Let’s have a relationship. This is the disconnect I believe exists right now between law enforcement and the communities that they’re sworn to protect and serve. And they have the authority to carry a gun and so do I. I have the authority to carry a gun as well. But having a relationship with our police officers. Call your police chief. Send him a letter send her a letter. Call the commander and just go talk to them
WEBBER: I agree and understand that point. The reality of the situation though is, in my job if I was a police officer, my job as a police officer is to protect those in my community regardless of if they’re reaching out to me and you’ve seen instances where police officers are watching nonviolent protests and the issues because they’re doing their job whether they agree with the protest is, that’s neither here nor there because it’s their job to do things correctly. I do belive that will help with mending the relationships with the communities, that relationship works both ways. The onus is also on police to also reach out to their communities. I don’t want to belabour your point, but the reality of the situation is you know my job is X I’m paid to do my job, so I shouldn’t expect someone Y to come in and do that.
MARLON: And we pay for the job.
JAMES: I mean, in my community I grew up with Crimewatch. And the whole Trayvon Martin thing, I’m looking at it and I’m unemployed and I’m sittin’ and I’m like bro, they’ve got Crimewatch. I remember when I was a kid, we had Crimewatch. It was an older woman in the neighborhood, she started it on her block and brought it to my dad and our block and that’s how we rode and took care of situations in our neighborhood.
So, now being one of the guys that’s coming back to the neighborhood and that’s already been back and we’re sitting there. Certain things that happen, just last week. There was a guy on a bike and was gonna go rob people. So I said look everybody, we all have to communicate. I think communication a little bit of unity we can all come together. Look if I didn’t know, the kid ran up on me, and that’s the dead honest truth. And if my neighbor didn’t say nothing I wouldn’t have known and we were able to jump on it and go talk to the kid and counsel the kid. And that’s what has to happen. Anytime there’s an officer in my neighborhood and there’s kids and anything. I’m there, I’m not two feet away. I’m 10 feet away where I’m supposed to be and I don’t have a camera. I’m just saying “Look, I’m here.” That makes them think, “OK someone has some sense, is going to hold me accountable.” It’s about talking to your neighborhood and knowing who the kids are. A lot of times we talk about the kids do this and the kids do that, especially my neighborhood they might vandalize here and vandalize there. But if someone is not there talking to the kids because the parents might not get to them.
We talk about these socioeconomic problems in the background, right now we’ve got a situation with kids that are homeless and people are taking them in and they can’t really take them in but they’re kids and they’re trying to do the best they can. And that’s what’s happening in the streets. A lot of these kids are in the streets they don’t have parents, they’ve already gotten kicked out. It’s not at 15, 16, and 17 like you see in the movies. It’s happening at 11, 12, and 13. And I’m not exaggerating because we’ve seen the proof, we’ve seen the proof in the pudding. Like I said, I’ll echo that sentiment of you. You’re saying we need to establish that relationship, we do. Each department has a community liaison or a community person for whatever district — I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t go to the Northside place every day.
We have to do that, we might have to sacrifice an hour of our time because if another kid gets killed in my community, that’s my fault. We can’t sit and say that that’s not my child because every one of us is getting victimized. I’m gonna be here today but I’m probably going to get stopped at the corner store when I leave here and get profiled. That’s just what the reality is. I look just like him and I know what the reality is. I couldn’t sit back when Trayvon happened. That happened in my city. I felt offended.
WEBBER: We have to intervene in policing. Relationships, communication all of it is important. For me in any community the health of the community is based on the well-being of the children. When we’re talking about community policing and we’re talking about building relationships we have to get creative. Police officers have to play an integral role in that in all corners of that society. Police officers or community engagement chiefs need to find a way to get police officers to work on the football fields, work with them in chess programs. Create afterschool activities and community park programs that bring police officers and children together. And then you build those relationships. Now, that cop is out of uniform working with students and youth in the community, they’re building a genuine relationship. Parents are involved.
MARLON: That costs a lot of money, man.
WEBBER: But that’s what needs to be done. We’re talking about children, we’re talking the health of our children. We’re talking about the youth right. We know that’s how you build a solid future in any community. You invest in the young, we’re talking about pre-k education, early education about building really great programs in parks, after schools, in the schools to keep these kids off the streets but also to bring meaningful adults in their lives.
MARLON: But you and I know that works. Someone has to make an investment. The budget cycle is coming up for the City of Miami and the City of North Miami. That money has to come locally. We don’t have a national police system in the United States of America. Someone has to pay for these programs. Someone has to pay for staffing. Someone has to pay for the venues that host the. The training. That has to be prioritized in city budget and it’s not happening.
WEBBER: But then you spend money on community need. You’re going to spend the money somewhere because the carnage can’t take place in isolation. It’s going to spill over in Coral Gables and Pinecrest, so I think you spend the money where you need to spend the money so everyone can live peacefully.
MARLON: That’s why the conversation isn’t just among us, it’s among those sipping coffee at Panther coffee. They need to be part of the conversation.
JUSTIN: I second that. I once had a colleague that said Justin, you’re in the community, I need you to come talk to my friends. And I said, I’m honored by that but I need you need to talk to your friends. The fact that you’re as passionate and upset about this because I look a certain type of way, it seems like I’m biased. The fact that you look different than I do and that you’re saying this and having these types of conversations at dinner, that’s where the change is created and I echo it. We need to make that investment. That’s something that’s critically important. I know there’s some great cops out there, some of my kids that I mentor and work with want to be police officers. And I know great police officers in the community but they’re losing the PR battle, they’re being cast by these bad apples. I know there’s some people doing good things, but they need to start marketing that and being visible in the community. That’s the problem
DANNY: One initiative that Dream Defenders is creating we do have to be innovative and think outside the box. When you’re trying to create a nation, you have to start from scratch. You’ve got to get really creative. One thing we’re starting to think about is we’re talking about the policing but policing is the problem right now. So we have to think outside of that to get at the root of the problem. One initiative we came up with is called Free Zones. Where before we call the police or any sergeants we reach out to the organizers and say make your establishment a Free Zone. What a Free Zone is, is that it allows youth to come into your facility, to learn from what you’re doing. If you have a barber shop, the youth can come in and feel safe. If there’s a problem it gets handled in house before police get brought into the situation.
I know coming from Chicago, I got arrested multiple times for things that if somebody had just talked to me about the situation could have gotten eradicated before it got escalated to a situation I couldn’t get out of. So we’re going to Liberty City, Overtown, Opa-Locka, Miami Gardens, the areas that we see the most egregious activity happening and make sure we started to build a community. The flipside is once individuals see there’s opportunity outside of the drugs, it inspires them to be a part of that and get to the economic piece.
How do we build a self sustainable economy without the state of Florida? This past week we were able to sign up over 100 black accounts at the black-owned banks in Miami, OneUnited Bank. We’re also having people working on the LGBTQ issues and worker’s rights. We need to all come together to come towards a common goal and topple the system and create something that works for the people that are a majority in the country.
JAMES: I’d like to say about Miami Gardens, about a year and a half ago we did the Color of Love festival and we had the kids riding bikes from Liberty City to Tacolcy Park, all the way up to Booker T. Washington. The kids rode up and guess what from basically the Miami-Gardens-Opa-locka line, the Miami Gardens Police Chief [Antonio] Brooklen and his officers, about 20, they all rode up from Miami Gardens, no cameras, no nothing. This is something they did without the PR. Because a lot of times for us, for a lot of kids growing up in the neighborhood, we want to see what you do when the camera’s not on. We don’t care about when the camera’s on, we know you’re going to be there. When the camera’s not on, that’s when it matters.
One kid’s bike caught a flat. That officer made it his thing that the kid’s bike got fixed before they got back on the road to ride, and you could see it in that kid’s face, their whole attitude toward police changed so I wanted to put that out there for Miami Gardens. I’m kind of biased with Miami Gardens, I like them a lil’ bit, because they show by example sometimes. Brooklen, when the situation, when that guy he was shooting at the officer, he shot at the office, notice that Miami Gardens took this man down, they did not shoot him, they did not fire a weapon, not one time, but nobody was talking about that. No one didn’t commend Miami Gardens for that. We have to look at both sides and say OK, what’s fair and what’s not fair.
A lot of these situations happening around the country is around use of force. That’s protocol. Is the protocol right? If it’s right then ok, if it’s wrong, we’re going to have to eat it. But most times it’s already unjust because of the temperament that is added on. It’s like three strikes one strike is if you just resist by saying no or asking a question like why are you stopping me than he’s like ok, well he’s somewhat he’s resistant. If he stops you and grabs you and you pull back a little bit and show that you got a little more strength than him, he’s justified because you’re stronger than me, you already caught attitude, you’re already defiant. We have to start looking at those policies. when you talk about sensitivity and all the cultural stuff, that’s the things we need to talk about. We have to put it in black and white, we have to talk about policy. We can sit up here and protest all day, but if we don’t get it in black and white and in policy, it’s not going to change.
MARVIN: I used to work for a large multinational company and working there every year I had an annual review, an annual review that said these are the things you did well and these are the things you need to work on. It seems as if a lot of these officers involved in these uses of force have had multiple reports of violations, of use of excessive force. Why are those things not being taken care of internally? These are police issues that police should be taking care of. While it is affecting the community, if they were being taken care of internally, we wouldn’t have that issue. That’s one. Two, the definition of what a successful officer looks like also needs to be changed. That narrative needs to be changed as well. Right now it’s taking down bad guys. Whenever you see in the movies or whatever, Dirty Harry or whatever police officer you want to look at, they’re using force, taking down bad guys drug dealers, whatever. That is the definition of a successful cop now, right? Number of arrests, this that and the other. That definition in itself should be changed. It should be how many people are you influencing or some other sort of quantifiable metric that can be tracked.
MARLON: I think we have to check ourselves too. What does a successful young man going to Belafonte Tacolcy or Betty Ferguson Center, we need to set some standards for ourselves too. Part of the argument and the narrative in this whole Black Lives Matter, power over words, blue lives matter, all lives matter, it’s gotten way overboard, it’s gotten way out of control in terms of parsing words, whether it’s plural, singular, negative affirmative, it’s gotten way out of control. We have to check ourselves too in our community. What is the economic piece in terms of circulating money in our community, circulating the dollar with One United. Are we doing enough to take care of our young black men ourselves? We can’t be complaining about folks investing in programs if we’re not going to put some skin in the game. The budget is not going to change unless we put our tax dollars on the table. We’ve got to change that narrative as well.
WEBBER: I’m ready to do that
MARLON: You’re ready to increase your taxes?
WEBBER: I’ll put my money where my mouth is. I get called and the survey’s like would you raise taxes to benefit certain demographics in the community? Absolutely. We’re talking about maintaining the homeostasis of the city. When you have officers trigger happy in the street, it’s because they feel threatened, because there’s a misconception that the black man is this viable threat and we have to go into martial law. In communities that are unaffected, that threat is starting to reach their boundaries, things will change quickly. I tell people all the time, I work both with the neediest in this community and I work with very wealthy families. When I’m at Ransom Everglades I tell them all the time, if a child gets shot in Pinecrest, things change very, very quickly. Bullet holes riddle up F.S. Tucker and we make a statement on the news and the next day it’s past tense.
MARLON: why is that?
JAMES: It’s the instant gratification. That’s why I think around this Alton stuff and Philando, a lot of people put me in this position, I said I can’t lead my people somewhere where I know that I don’t even want to do no more, I’m not going to lead you to the instant gratification and the hype. The protest, yes, the recruitment, that’s the hype, we need that. It’s that first step. That’s how I got active, that’s how I got involved, it’s the very next step, we have to get people to know this is a lifelong battle, this is a lifestyle change. We talk about movement, movement, movement, but this is a lifestyle change. If I don’t have to spend my money that way, I don’t want my dollar, every time I spent it to think, ok, I’m contributing to my six hours. I’m contributing and I think that in my mind and I think everyone has to start doing that. I’m not saying stop doing everything you’re doing right now and go find other options for it, over time start to find your options find things that naturally work for you and move on that way.
I said this earlier if people don’t like you in real life what do you do? Most of the time you try to work out your differences. But you know if you don’t work out your difference, you’re like fine this is something I don’t need to deal with. If not I’m going to be in this situation I don’t need to be in. We shouldn’t have to be in this whole separation. I felt like as a black man they don’t respect me at all. Period. You know what I mean? An officer has free will and that’s happened to me so many times. I can name dates off the top of my head like July 4, and the officer says well you know, it’s the holidays and it’s July 4 so we’re on heightened security and I say, well my people weren’t free on July 4th. I’m just being honest. What July 4th means to you it didn’t mean to me. At the end of the day you’re telling me I’m suspicious, you walked right up on me, I didn’t look stunned, I didn’t do anything, and you’re telling me I look suspicious, but the person who called is sitting in the car ain’t spoke to me. It’s his word against mine. I haven’t done anything. That’s how I feel you’re guilty. It doesn’t matter you’re guilty. You know what I’m saying? That’s the normal for a black man in America. You’re guilty. You’re not innocent until you’re proven guilty, you’re guilty until you’re proven innocent.
DANNY: One thing, I’ve been doing a bit of reading lately. [Jokes] Amiri Baraka said we can’t fight with guns, we can’t fight with weapons, we’ve got to fight with our minds. We got to detach ourselves. The thing is, the system, the way it’s been set up, it’s been set up to make a profit for the people in power. We know that. We have to do double work. We have to have that double consciousness. Yeah we’re living as black men in America, yea, we’re living an entirely different life, we see how people view us. We have to now create our own narrative and help the people who are being the most oppressed, which are the people who are oppressing us. They’re dealing with it worse than us because they don’t even know it’s happening when it’s happening to them. They’re the biggest puppets. We have to work for them, we have to liberate ourselves as well as liberate them. That’s the only way we’re going to see a just society ever. The way the system is constructed, it’s meant to have people think about races, classes a certain way and it will continue to be that way unless we change the narrative.
MARLON: Danny, a report just came out with school grades. Which schools got Fs?
JAMES: District one and district two.
MARLON: District one and district two. You want to talk about knowledge…
ARIEL: Where are those districts?
GROUP: Liberty City, Miami Gardens, Opa-locka, that northwest quadrant.
DANNY: our youth, they understand the stuff we’re learning in school doesn’t pertain to them. They don’t give a flying hell about any of that, so they’re not going to want to learn. Listen, I read white history. I study my enemy. But I know that’s not going to liberate me. None of my group has done the traditional route. And we’re still just as successful as people who have been at college and don’t know why. We have to train ourselves better, and eat better, and understand what we’re doing. Our youth are waking up. The 60s was one of the most powerful times in US history. There was a gap, a miscommunication, because we’ve seen a lot of our leaders get killed and snuffed out.
MARVIN: It’s funny you mention the 60s and you talk about race relations. And while the movement did start in the black community, it wasn’t until it was a group of multiple communities that it really caught on. And so in addition to seeing the violence and impression on the media which propelled it to the national stage, you had groups across multiple races and genders working together for the same goal. So I think we need to really work on bringing more people into the narrative. The overuse of force by the police, while it is disproportionately affecting the minority community, it’s not just a black issue.
JAMES: No disrespect. I’m with you, we did help everybody. But it comes to a point where we do have to help ourselves. They don’t help us. There’s a war going on inside and you know it. I have to go to my neighbor and say, in a year I’m going to be at your door again. We have to stay consistent and it can grow over time. It’s going to start with us. If we’re not doing it, what do we want everybody else to do? We have to say, this is how we want to be respected. Self-respect. Once we get that, we’re going to be better off. A lot of times I get frustrated because we fight these battles for everybody else and we get the short end of the stick.
ARIEL: Earlier this year the Miami Herald did a survey of top concerns across the city and broke it down by race. The black community listed gun violence as the top concern and it didn’t even register among white residents when they broke it down. What can be done to address that issue in the community, and what can the city do to support it?
WEBBER: I’m going to address it in one sentence. Why is it only one community being plagued by gun violence? When I asked my children in one of my programs just before Christmas, how many are impacted by gun violence — I have a program that’s half-Hispanic, black, brown, Dominican, Nicaraguan, and then you have Allapattah, Little Haiti, etc. Not one Hispanic student stood up. It was all of my students from Liberty City, Little Haiti, all my black students had a personal experience or a family member who had been shot. Why is it just one demographic being plagued by gun violence?
MARVIN: The second question would be, why is that only known by the black community?
MARLON: Because they’re not impacted. Unless it’s on your doorstep in 33156 or another zip code. In Miami and communities across America we’re still living in segregated silos. Many people drive by these neighborhoods and never stop to shop or eat or anything. That’s because of history. You asked how do we change that narrative? First, we have to take care of home. The black community has to take a look in the mirror: what are we not doing with regards to one, the family structure at home. Kids without fathers in the home, or any male figure. Access to jobs, the mom is working two jobs, four jobs, so childcare is an issue. It’s a multi-pronged issue. What Webber said earlier, if we want to be a “one community one goal” and target industries and be a “world-class city,” we can’t be a world-class city if we have the poorest zip codes in America. We have to realize the investment and the budget has to change. Kids in Opa Locka, Florida City, Goulds. We want good things for our kids, too. We want to go to shows. We want to go to a restaurant. We want our kids to go to good schools. So if other people don’t care, the problem will come to their doorstep at some point through their tax bill or personal experience.
DANNY: We also have to snuff out this corrupt leadership. If you look at a zip code like Opa-locka, there’s money that’s supposed to be allocated to those communities and never gets there. Munch knows the names and the faces of the people who say they’re for the people, but we’ve carved out some folks. It’s necessary for the masses to do it. A few of our folks are preparing to snuff those leaders out.
MARVIN: Politically speaking.
DANNY: Politically speaking. Metaphorically. But that language is necessarily because the following we have knows that language. We can’t sugarcoat. We have to pinpoint. We have to understand how our leadership works. Sometimes there are two leaders with seven organizations, and that money only goes to seven organizations and no one else sees it. We have to make sure we’re in the right meetings and rubbing the right shoulders, and that we’re not afraid to talk about what needs to change. It’s a process but we have to be on top of it. We can’t stop.
JAMES: I’m just thinking back to my own life. I was a kid, 12 years old, you sit on the corner for two seconds, you have police snapping pictures in your face. You snapping pictures and all I did was play some football, the mentality automatically grows, it’s automatically cops and robbers. We talk about gun violence, there are three sources. One is the officers who stay in the neighborhood, the kids break into the houses and take the guns. Another one is the OGs are doing what they aren’t supposed to do. They’re giving guns to the kids. When I was 12, 13, 14, your OG didn’t give you nothing. He probably slapped you and told you to go home because you weren’t old enough. My OG told me to go to school. When people talk about the guys who had to be out on the streets, they did that because they had to. The people out there on the streets now, they do it because they want to. This is fun, this is Liberty City Streets: Vice City to them. This is Grand Theft Auto. And the schools are failing us. I have a godbrother who learned all his history from me. If I I don’t teach him he doesn’t know it. We give them Martin Luther King and Malcolm X every year. We won’t tell them about the Haitian Revolution. We don’t tell them about black Miami. We have a rich history here. We don’t even talk about it. We don’t empower our kids in the schools. If we don’t empower our kids, that’s what it’s about. We want to make sure them kids know who they are.
I grew up here, I am from this place. I ran the whole thing from 36th all the way to 95th street. That’s just what it is. I played that [unintelligible] But that doesn’t take away from who I am. People sit there and say, why Munchkin can walk around with no pistol and he’s good. It’s because I’ve been doing it for 20 years telling them, all this killing over old beef makes no sense. No one wants to bring up the real issues.
MARLON: What’s the third way?
JAMES: The OGs they rob it. That’s the main two. That’s how they get ‘em. They’re not old enough to go buy ‘em. So how do they get ‘em? They are placed in their hands.
WEBBER: I have friends in high places. I have friends who work for Miami Gardens. IF the cops wanted to go to war with the children of Miami Gardens, they’re loaded. Full automatic, loaded clips. There are guns everywhere. Where are they acquiring guns? It’s like that clip from NWA. We don’t ship guns to Americans. We don’t ship guns to Florida. Where are they getting those firearms from?
JAMES: I remember a year ago the military was riding around and they dropped a bunch of ammo in Northwest Miami Dade. It was on 7, they had it, you can do research and go try to find it. It dropped, and you heard nothing else about it. You didn’t hear none of that stuff. Just a box of ammo dropped out the sky. I’m just saying. A month or two later, it was a rash of shootings. I’m not saying they did it on purpose, but we say this doesn’t happen. It was on the news.
MARLON: For me it’s frustrating because as a lawyer of the constitution, the second amendment is not going anywhere unless we want to go back to 1776 and burn the document. So what do we do? Who’s going to be responsible for stopping the guns going into this community?
MARVIN: I think it’s’ the lack of viable options to the guns. If the F schools were A schools and I had a viable path to the career I want to get, maybe I wouldn’t take the gun route.
JAMES: I had a kid skip school and tell me, why as a black man am i going to school when everything a black man does is illegal? If I had asked him why aren’t you going to school, he never would have known James is a black business owner. But the kids don’t see that option.
DANNY: The youth are trying to find out. I was trying every single thing. But it got to where certain things were easier to do than easier and the benefit was a lot quicker. I always try to say, it’s two problems in the hood: we see the drug dealers are able to get the drugs fast and in a hurry. But then there’s brothers I’ve talked to who are outside looking in, you think they’re drug dealers, but they lie to their kids. They don’t say, I’m a therapist. They say, I’m out there getting it. They have this facade they’re trying to keep up. It’s like, bro, you can still ride clean, but you don’t have to front. You’re scaring the youth raw.
The dreams I had of being a hood star were based off people who when I got over there it turned out these cats were lawyers. But they were over in the hood. The thing is, black people are always flashy. We’ve always been sexy. That’s the facts.
In the 80s drugs were funding movements, they were funding the community. It was, okay, this is the thing you’re going to give us, we’re going to to use it. The gang I was in was based on the only way you’re going to get in this gang was if you give back to your community. The drugs was just a thing you were utilizing. Because we’re hustlers. But when the 90s came and the epidemic started to hit way too hard, the leaders—1999, I can tell you like it was yesterday, they did a major sweep of all the gang leaders. What did that leave? STill drugs, guns, a lot of money. It falls after that. You got the drugs, the guns, the money. Now it’s just people running wild. We used to have leadership, we used to have structure. If you didn’t do certain things, it was your butt. Now it’s dog eat dog, and if I see you got it, I’m going to take your position.
MARVIN: In Chicago that Danny’s talking about, they tore down the housing project and dispersed the remaining folks and mixed communities among themselves. So where you had blocks controlled by certain gangs and despite that being negative had a structure, now you had one gang living right next door to another gang. And you see the gun violence in south side Chicago.
MARLON: It’s the fourth day of the Republican National Convention and I haven’t heard anything about this yet. Next week I’m waiting to hear what’s going to be said about changing the structure. I want to hear specifically, what are these two candidates going to do if they believe in uplifting to “make America great again,” is it all of America? Is it pieces of America? Is it slices of America?
JAMES: Hillary already said it. Trump, we know what he’s doing. When Hillary had Black Lives MAtter behind closed doors and it was still videotaping, she said, my job is not to bring your issue to the house. It’s for you to make me aware of it so I can be well versed in it to bring it back. So that’s not saying she won’t do anything at all, but she’s saying, hold me accountable. We get mad, but she said, not in plain words, but she said it, hold me accountable. Now Trump, he hasn’t said anything. But my thing is: local elections.
ARIEL: What would you do to change that and hold leaders accountable?
JAMES: Local elections. You have to know the police director who just got in. You have to konw the city and county commissioners who just got in. ANd you have to vote.
DANNY: We got to put people who know the community in office, then we got to hold them accountable. Then we have to get informed about the issues. That’s the power. That’s how you can oversee what’s actually going to be in your community. A lot of times we’ll vote for these people, slack off on them, then they do what they want to do. I started going to commission meetings the last two years, and the language is—damn. They’re getting ready to spend $500,000 on some signs for some trolleys. And they have 20 minute segments making sure this passes. And down the street you have death and destruction.
JAMES: That’s the reality. [unintelligible]
MARLON: It’s all in the budget. I’m telling you.
JAMES: One of my mentors said, always told me ‘follow the money.’ You’ll see. The same stuff always happens.
JUSTIN: We have to get out of this culture of just liking things on Facebook. We have to get involved. I know two commissioners, Daniella Levine Cava and Ken Russell, County and City, they’re looking for people to get involved on committees. If we want to hold them accountable, we have to do it.
ARIEL: One of the things we heard a lot from our readers is that people outside the black community say, I don’t know how to have this conversation in a well-informed and respectful way but I want to help. What advice do you have for people outside the black community who want to hold people accountable and have conversations in a helpful way?
WEBBER: We talked about this a little bit on our phone call. In Miami we’re in much better shape than the rest of the country because we’re diverse. Latinos have black relatives, we’re in much better shape. I don’t say we don’t have work to do. But for the most part Latinos know how to deal with blacks and blacks know how to deal with Latinos. If you’re HIspanic in South Florida and you live in Westchester or Doral, you never have to make contact with a black person. You don’t have to do anything with a black person. Whereas if you live in Miami Gardens, at some point you have to interact with other people. So we’re naturally all-embracing because we have to do it from birth. Blacks have to learn to interact with other individuals. But other groups don’t have to do that. So the first step is: build relationships with people who don’t look like you. If you’ve never had a black person sit at your dinner table, there’s a problem.
MARLON: For example, Key Biscayne has a program where they adopt communities in Liberty City. You can have cities decide, I’m going to have a sister city instead of outside the country, right here in Miami-Dade. Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Doral, could all have sister cities where there are challenges. You could have partners with churches. You have Anglican churches where everyone looks like me, and down the block another church that [unintelligble]
DANNY: Honestly, it’s a privilege to be in the realm of black people. There’s a lot of culture, a lot of innovativeness. A lot of things we see in other cultures are based on systems we’ve had. Have those conversations around the dinner table, but also: give your money without stipulation. In the nonprofit industrial complex, what we see is certain quotas you have to meet. Detach those and give us dollars to let us flourish. ASide from money, what else do you need from anybody else? Conversations are great, but you might live in Poland or something. But honestly, the only difference we have that you don’t have is access to funds. And then stop being so angry that we are sexy. You have some type of fear.
JUSTIN: More talking with the people you are trying to help. Have them as a partner, not just give money and feel like you’re doing good. It goes back to the relationships thing.
MARVIN: Nothing builds empathy like shared experience. The reason I can see both sides of the Black and Blue LIves Matter is that my best friend growing up is from Fort Lauderdale. The reason I can understand what’s happening Turkey is I had classmates who are from Turkey. Understanding and knowing and having relationships with people outside your immediate circle that you grew up with and know will help change everything. It’s much easier to have a conversation with someone you know than someone you don’t know.
WEBBER: Creating authentic experiences with people you don’t know. Spending time, coaching a basketball team, all of those things will give you a window and help you build empathy and know what it’s like to live in these individuals’ shoes.
ARIEL: I’ve got a question from Rachel Stretfield. Why the impulse to blame politicians in the system. Does that inflame tensions, and can we identify a clearer target for activism?
MARVIN: The reason why the system gets blamed is there have been specific policies put in place to inadvertently affect certain communities. The crime bill of the ‘90s, the three strikes law. There’s no coincidence that the FBI and infiltration of white supremacists groups. In Ferguson once the federal government did an investigation, they found a gross negligence. The institution is to blame and it’s a cause of it. Going back to the monetization of the criminal justice system, if I know that I have a financial incentive to privatize the justice system, if there’s an incentive to send people to certain jails, then I’m going to do it. Because while it’s not the status quo, it’s happening. It can be changed, you just need to want to change it.
Marlon: Trying to fight to lead the same government. Even if you privatize it, you have to think are you going to prioritize taking care of your citizens? Everyone wants to go to school, everyone wants a job. And the tax dollars that everyone puts in their fair share, and then we as a people decide how to divide the pie to take care of the family. We’re one American family. But you have a system where a certain class of people had to work for free to fill the treasury of those in the system. It’s not a construct outside the history books. It’s not just in America, it’s all over the world. A lot of folks are upset at the system because of that. And it’s tied to a racial construct. We’re not just blaming the government, we’re stating facts of how a racial construct has affected us.
DANIEL: I have very close friends who are in office and they do right. Like Keon Hardemon, close friend of mine. We fall out, we can have civilized conversations because he cares and listens about what should be done in Overtown Little Haiti, Liberty City. Now for the other people who feel offended, they probably have a reason to feel offended. The goal is to incite them to leave office or to do better while they’re in there.
MARLON: That’s a narrative that’s changed from the first time. [Laughs]
DANIEL: Listen, snuffing out is necessary. That’s why it’s important for us to educate the community. We shouldn’t have schools with no textbooks, that dumb. We pay taxes, every community has a community development fund. So if it’s not happening, we need to identify who the leadership is. People think because you’re in office, you’re a genius. That’s not the case. YOu might just be in office because you have pull, or you family might have money. So we have to educate the people in power. It’s our duty as people who are educated to have a conversation with the community and the power. We are the liaisons, we can go inside and out because we know how it needs to be played.
JAMES: If you don’t have that open door policy with your politicians then you know it’s already a problem. All my commissioners know I’ll walk into the office any given time of the day. It’s not to go at them, a lot of the time we jump down their throats and they get on the defense. But if I come in and ask, I need to understand this policy. How can we get to the middle? One of the things that just passed in Liberty City, rising Liberty Square, everyone focused on what we all know as the Pork and Bean Projects, the heart of Liberty City, Liberty Square. So, if you take that we know what the plan is. So, it was so much focus on Liberty Square, they didn’t focus on Brownsville, on the surrounding areas, the unincorporated areas, West Little River, they didn’t talk about other areas about how they would be impacted. 22nd avenue hasn’t been active. We have 100 churches from 96th to 62nd and none of them… I don’t know, if it’s 501c3, they’re not paying taxes. So think about that tax revenue. We don’t have tax base because we have churches, liquor stores, the only thing we’re collecting taxes from are the corner stores. So the budget is imbalanced already. We have to say we need you to get a salon, but also you need a business that supports the salon. We need that ecosystem. We have to be able to walk into their office and most do have an open door policy where we can go in and ask questions. That’s what we have to start doing. Like with police, we have to file complaints. We don’t so they say it didn’t happen.
ARIEL: we have two other people write in asking about how money is used in policing and where things go in the budget. From Naomi Ross, she says, a few years ago,the City of Miami put in $2 million towards “anti-poverty” initiatives. Meanwhile the police department received $20 million. How do we reverse those numbers so more money is going towards anti-poverty.
JAMES: You need to ask where did the anti-poverty dollars go?
MARLON: $2 million? Come on. If we’re talking about the black community, it’s almost 19% of the city of miami. We’re not getting 19% of the budget. But the budget process is coming up now, next month, September. Good time to have that open door policy and say walk me through. Or make an appointment and talk to budget director. Say show me what you’re proposing for the military. Money is coming in from the folks in Aventura, Pinecrest, for the folks who own homes. In our community, ownership of a home is more rentals. We can’t make an argument to contribute to the tax pool, so we need to make an argument to the people who do. You asked earlier, what should we be doing? We need to make a case about how we’re spending tax dollars. If we want to be a world class cosmopolitan city, is it education, job creation, is it parks, protecting pets? What is it going to be? It’s a hard conversation. If you work hard and your property value is half a million dollars, or $100,000 in LIberty City, everyone is putting in their fair share. But you still need to talk about it.
MARVIN: We will never be a great city until everyone is on the same level. Rising tide raises all ships.
ARIEL: I think we’re coming to the end. Want to share final thoughts?
WEBBER: It’s important to know we’re all complicit in the negative things we experience in our community. So much about being successful is growing up in a community and leaving that community and being different from that community. In the chase of the American dream we double down on some of the bad policies happening. Whether it’s housing policies, whether it’s poor schools, weeding strong kids out of community schools so they can benefit that school. Everything we do double downs on that. We have a miseducation, we need to uneducate ourselves of the bad things we learn in communities. And we need to reeducate ourselves in a positive way. That means retaining talent in our communities. We grow up, get resources, but come back to community and make it stronger. We need to get away from “If I’m better, I need to be separate.” A lot of that psychosis needs to be undone.
MARVIN: A lot of the narrative we’re hearing now is all negative. I want everyone to know, There are lots of positive things happening. All these gentlemen are doing great things. I don’t want everyone having a negative sense. This conversation was specifically about the overuse of police force in the black community. But know that things are getting better and they take time and they take effort. Everyone watching should know this is the first step having the conversation. We haven’t been able to have we haven’t had organizations like The New Tropic to lead them. Having the conversation is the first step. The second step is mobilizing in our community and outside of it to effect change. After you leave here don’t let it be the last thing that happens. Call commissioners, vote conscious, do what’s necessary to effect positive change
MARLON: I just got this BMe grant and one thing I want to focus on in miami is what a young man in a black suit looks like. Give him a perspective on mentorship. My law firm, I asked them to adopt Brownsville Middle School, show them what it’s like to be a lawyer. One of the messages is individuals, companies, and organizations, you can do a lot more with very very little. If you want to change what you see in the media, you have to make a conscious decision to make an investment in reaching out. Second thing, I would say, when you see a black man in a suit or a snap back, don’t hold your purse so tight. Maybe say, “Hello, say good morning, good evening, what are you doing, what going on with the birds chirping? Have a conversation, because we exist. We exist. It can be a powerful thing. We will take care of what’s happening in our families. But the nonblack community is frustrated about what they’re reading in the media. There’s a lot you can do with your checkbook, but more you can do with your presence.
JAMES: Vote, sacrifice, and be proactive. Last thing, this ain’t the time to be woke and you’re still in your bed.
JUSTIN: When I was in DC, someone told me we’re living through 500 years of oppression, that can’t be fixed in a lifetime. I said I have six brothers here and six lives. Many of you are doing amazing things there. We can do this. We are uniquely empowered to not accept the world for the way it stands for us today but to challenge the way it should be.
DANNY: Getting active. It’s a lot of work to be done in a lot of different areas of focus. We need to be in, but it’s risking it, it’s losing the fear, really shaking the cobwebs off. Shoutout to my sis here [points to a woman in the room]. She didn’t know I was peeping, she was the organizer of the Wynwood Shut Down the Streets with about 500 folks out there. It’s being active, doing some organizing and getting things togehter.
MARLON: As legally as possible.
DANNY: We made it legal can you can’t stop the masses. It’s getting active but also creating a structure, a difficult task is that I’m a doer and we do a lot with the collective, but it’s the overall structure people need when they want to get in tune. We have people who want to sign on and join the movement, but if we don’t have something for them to go into, we lose that support. We need to get the necessary pieces in order to keep building this house of love.