Miami Beach police brutality case caught on video stirs memories of McDuffie killing | Opinion

·4 min read

They must not teach the despicable history of police brutality in Miami-Dade County at the academy.

What else can explain why a swarm of Miami Beach police officers, acting like entitled criminals, descended on a surrendered, handcuffed man lying on the ground and repeatedly kicked and punched him, and slammed his head onto the hard terrazzo floor?

The gang mentality of this latest episode of excessive use of force in our community stirs memories of a similar, if more unconscionably brutal and deadly act by police: the McDuffie killing.

In 1979 Miami, one had to imagine a police beating so savage that it took a man’s life.

His name was Arthur McDuffie, a 33-year-old Black insurance salesman and former Marine, beaten into a coma — his skull shattered like an egg, the medical examiner said — by as many as a dozen officers.

In 2021 Miami Beach, we don’t have to imagine a thing.

There’s crystal-clear videotape of a bunch of angry Beach police officers kicking and punching handcuffed Dalonta Crudup, 24, who had stepped out of a hotel elevator with his hands up, laid himself on the ground and pulled his hands behind him, ready for handcuffs.

There was no need to do a thing other than cart Crudup off to jail on charges that he allegedly struck a police officer with his scooter, then fled to the hotel. The officer had been allegedly trying to give Crudup a citation for wrongful parking.

But frenzied officers just kept rushing into the Royal Palm Hotel lobby in South Beach, some taking a whack at Crudup, others arresting for resisting arrest two other bystanders guilty of nothing but being there watching the scene unfold.

Officers had the gall to beat up the bystander videotaping the beating, Khalid Vaughn, 28, of New York, and criminally charge him when he was doing nothing but peacefully exercising his legal right to record the arrest, video shows. They also arrested Sharif Cobb, 27, a friend of Vaughn who was there witnessing Crudup’s beating, and charged both of them with resisting arrest.

These were way, way more than simply rough arrests, videos compiled by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office show.

Let this number sink in: 21 police officers on the scene to handle the arrest of a man who had already surrendered.

A ”gang of hoodlums” homing in on their victim, the Miami Herald aptly described the scene in an editorial that asks, “Will the lessons of George Floyd’s death ever sink in?”

Miami Beach officers acted like thugs. Looks like they learned nothing from George Floyd | Editorial

Apparently not.

And, once more, there’s no avoiding the terrible racial optics of the case, when most of the police officers using excessive force were white and Hispanic and the suspects three Black young men.

Did they think they were going to get away with an all-out assault in the midst of security cameras and their own body cams? It might have been 1:25 a.m. on July 26, but the clarity of evidence is damning.

Now five police officers — recently promoted Sgt. Jose Perez, and officers Kevin Perez, Robert Sabater, Steven Serrano and David Rivas — stand arrested and charged with single counts of misdemeanor battery.

Five Miami Beach cops charged after pummeling two men in hotel lobby. Video released

Under Florida law, the penalty for misdemeanor battery is up to one year in jail or 12 months of probation and a $1,000 fine.

The charges don’t seem anywhere near sufficient for the violence we see displayed on video, but the investigation continues and there may be stiffer or additional charges filed, authorities have said.

Certainly, these cops need to lose their jobs, too.

Equally important, there must be a deeper reckoning than prosecution and firings. People in this community forget the past too quickly and — under the cloak of our multiculturalism — display a tendency to think ourselves to be better than the rest of the nation.

We’re not — and cases of excessive use of force by police prove it.

Hiring hotheads to police the streets is a lesson departments should have learned 42 years ago, when one criminal arrest marked us forever.

In the McDuffie case, five police officers were charged with the killing and the cloddish attempt to cover up the crime. And when they were found not guilty by an all-white jury in Tampa, riots erupted in Liberty City, claiming 18 lives and leaving $100 million in destroyed property.

I was an intern at the Herald that year, and my unforgettable assignment was to interview the dozens of the bloody injured who were taken by ambulance or drove themselves, in shock, to Hialeah Hospital.

Police violence, believe me, has impact beyond the single act of failing to live up to their oath. It amounts to more than a violation of a suspect’s right to due process. It brands a community’s soul.

Although the injuries to the men at the Royal Palm Hotel — miraculously, a black eye, bruised ribs and bloody chin for Crudup — seem to be minor, the vengeful police conduct displayed in Miami Beach is reminiscent of the McDuffie case.

Both have police entitlement for payback at their core.

The basic, systemic problem with policing in Miami-Dade County remains the same: Too many cops think they’re above the law.

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