Miami officials decided to mark the start of Black History Month by unveiling a police cruiser that had been painted with the African-American flag, images of raised fists, a map of Africa, and–just in case it was unclear—the words “Black History Month.”
This went about as well as you can expect, especially given that in Miami, Black people are still much more likely to be arrested than other groups.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami police chief Manuel Morales were on hand for the ceremony on Thursday at the city’s Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum, with Suarez calling it a “beautiful collaboration to commemorate Black History… and the history of African Americans and our police department and our city.”
“This is Black history,” Suarez said of the cop car.
Suarez even went so far as to indirectly reference police killings of Black people, such as that of Tyre Nichols in Memphis at the hands of several police officers, five of whom have been fired and charged with murder and kidnapping. “Obviously we’ve seen some things across the country that are shocking, that we hope and know will never be repeated in our jurisdiction,” Suarez said at a Thursday press conference, according to Miami New-Times.
“But I think part of the reason why it won’t is because we embrace our history,” Suarez said, according to Miami New-Times. “We know where we came from. We understand what the struggles were.”
The Miami Police Department alone has killed at least three Black people since 2015, according to the Washington Post’s police shootings database.
Morales said that he got the idea for the car from Miami’s police union, according to New-Times. “I was absolutely excited,” Morales said. “And the only thing that struck me, ‘How come we hadn’t done this before?’”
Former NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Sherillyn Ifill, on the other hand, tweeted: “THIS CANNOT BE.” Ifill also called the decision “grotesque.”
Part of the history Suarez said Miami is now “embracing” is, as most places in the United States, a history of white supremacy and police brutality.
In 1967, Miami police chief Walter Headley coined the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” a reference to what he’d told his officers they should do to prevent “civil uprising.” Though the first Black police officers in Miami were hired in 1944, Headley referred to Black cops as “patrolmen” while white officers were “policemen,” according to the Washington Post.
Former President Donald Trump quoted Headley during unrest in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis cops and Breonna Taylor’s killing by Louisville police in 2020.
Miami—like most places in America—has continued to struggle with allegations of racist policing practices. The ACLU’s 2018 report found that from 2010 to 2015, Black people in Miami-Dade County were more than twice as likely to be arrested and held in pretrial detention than other racial groups.
And among the Miami Police Department, the larger Miami-Dade Police Department, and the state Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 36 people—17 of them Black—have been killed by police in Miami since 2015, according to the Washington Post’s police shootings database.