Downtown Miami’s Freedom Tower and Torch of Friendship were the sites of two muted Fourth of July demonstrations, one a rally in support of President Donald Trump followed by a protest march against police brutality.
A group of about 100 people organized by Konscious Kontractors leader Francois Alexandre gathered at the torch landmark on Biscayne Boulevard on Saturday evening for a “Say Their Names” tribute. They displayed dozens of photos of victims who have died in violent confrontations with police, including George Floyd, who was killed May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds after accusing Floyd of using a counterfeit bill at a convenience store.
One of the photos was of Arthur McDuffie, the Miami insurance agent beaten to death by Miami-Dade police after they chased him down for speeding on his motorcycle in 1979.
Aside from the crack of intermittent fireworks going off in the distance, the tone was quiet and somber, in contrast to the aggressive and energetic mood at protests centered on the Black Lives Matter movement in previous weeks.
“I was a little surprised at the turnout,” said Illiana Urrea, 20, from Homestead. “My first one was really big, so this one is a little smaller, but it’s still really good.”
Frank Howard, a 23-year-old from from Miami, was encouraged by the devotion of the people in attendance, but said it will all be meaningless unless there’s a larger-than-normal turnout of voters in November.
“Ultimately, it comes down to voting,” Howard said. “If you don’t vote, none of this matters.”
Little Haiti Voudou priest Olvida Alva blessed the protesters standing with heads bowed by the torch and the array of photos, flowers and candles.
Chanting “Whose streets? Our streets” and “No justice, no peace,” and “Black Lives Matter,” the protesters began marching down Biscayne Boulevard to Northeast Second Avenue at 6:30 p.m.
They carried signs that said, “Who Will Hold Police Accountable? End Qualified Immunity,” which refers to the legal protection that can help shield police from civil lawsuits. Another sign said, “How can I celebrate when this country raped and pillaged this land from my ancestors?”
Numerous protesters carried signs with a 2013 photo of Alexandre’s bloody, swollen face and the words “Do I have to die before I matter?”
Alexandre told the crowd that Second Avenue was where he was beaten by police following a Miami Heat game seven years ago. Alexandre, 34, then a college student, was outside his apartment celebrating the Heat’s second straight NBA championship at AmericanAirlines Arena with other fans when he said a Miami police officer put him in a headlock and five other officers slammed him to the ground, punched and kicked him and broke his eye socket. He filed a civil lawsuit against them in 2016.
“I’m living, and I f****** matter,” he said.
By 8 pm, the march progressed through Historic Overtown.
About 20 city of Miami police officers blocked the entrance to I-95 as protesters walked down Third Avenue.
Protesters yelled “Black Lives Matter!” as they passed tented homeless encampments.
Alla Massri has attended several protests since the unrest began. She said it’s important for her to continue to show up.
“I think until we get real change, we have to keep fighting every single day,” Massri, 18, said.
The march arrived at the gates of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute on Northwest 17th Avenue in the Jackson Memorial Hospital complex shortly before 8:30 pm.
Security guards closed the iron gates, only to open them for arriving police.
“The cops are Nazis. We keep us safe,” a protester said over a bullhorn.
The group turned around and walked back through Overtown shortly before 9 pm.
Alexandre said the stop at Jackson served two purposes -- it was where he was taken after his beating by police, and he wanted to show support for doctors and nurses during the COVID-19 crisis.
The march ended back at the torch, where organizers decided to break the county’s 10 p.m. curfew by 15 minutes. A protester tied an American flag on the statue of Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar and set it on fire.
The “Say Their Names” protest and march was preceded by a late afternoon pro-Trump rally on the steps of the Freedom Tower.
About 100 people waved U.S., Cuban and Trump campaign flags and carried “Latinos for Trump” signs.
Speeches in Spanish were punctuated with chants of “Trump 2020” in English, and “Viva Cuba Libre” and “Gracias America” In Spanish.
Jose Fernandez, 29, drove from Orlando to take part. He immigrated from Cuba five years ago, and says Trump is the country’s best protection from what he considers a slide toward communism and socialism.
“I think Trump will help America stay away from a communist and socialist dictatorship,” Fernandez said. “The market economy is the best thing to happen in human history.”