Congresswoman Wants Civil Rights Probe Into Police Killings

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Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson has called on the Justice Department to launch a civil rights investigation into a recent spate of shootings involving police in Miami. Seven men have been shot dead by police in the past eight months. All were African American and two were reportedly unarmed. The shootings have sparked outrage in Miami's black inner-city communities. Host Michel Martin speaks with Congresswoman Wilson, whose 17th district includes some of the neighborhoods where the shootings occurred.


Now we turn to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. She represents Florida's 17th district, which includes some of the neighborhoods where most of the police shooting have occurred. She's with us now from her office in Miami. Welcome back, Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.

Representative FREDERICA WILSON (Democrat, Florida): Thank you, Michel, how are you?

MARTIN: I'm well, thank you. Now, the chief - you just heard the chief's comments, and it - the city manager who has the ultimate authority here has asked a former senior FBI agent to look into this question, and he's assessed that he's compared the last year of the previous Chief John Timoney's leadership, with the first 15 months of Chief Exposito's tenure.

He said that during Mr. Timoney's final year as chief, seven officers shot at suspects killing four, and under Chief Exposito there have been 10 shootings with seven fatalities. And people are looking at that data and seeing different things in it. How do you read this? Do you think that the level of force being used under this chief's leadership is excessive?

Rep. WILSON: I think it's extremely excessive. And I think that have found some proof as to the training of these officers that is very different from when John Timoney was there. And I think there is a video that he didn't speak about where the police officers are actually saying they are hunters, they are predators, and all of the suspects in this video are African-American men. And they seem to be living up to that.

So I've called in the Justice Department to investigate this, because only the Justice Department has the expertise and the resources to make sure that we investigate and have objective scrutiny. And that the city of Miami and the citizens here can have the justice they deserve.

MARTIN: The chief says that the community, including the black community, supports his efforts. What are you hearing from your constituents?

Rep. WILSON: The community does not support his efforts. What has happened is, the NAACP president, and the county commissioners, and the city commissioners have come out the community to keep everyone calm. I myself have attended night meetings to say to the people don't - don't rear up, don't fight each other. Don't burn your community down. Stay home. We're going to take care of this.

We have been stopping them from really protesting even though there have been many, many protests. There was one last week. So let him not say that, because no one has said that to him, that they are pleased that he has shot seven black men in seven months. What kind of - that's uh-uh...

MARTIN: It's just - what is your assessment of what's happening here? The chief implied that this is in part a consequence of his stepped-up efforts to address the problem of crime. What is your assessment here?

Rep. WILSON: I think it has a lot to do with community policing and the people who are policing the community. And I think this was a tactical team that he sent into the community who shot these men. And I think the part that has me disturbed is a couple years ago, about three years ago, tasers were the new thing. And in order to stop a suspect, or intervene in some sort of activity -criminal activity - our police officers used taser guns.

And as I read about the circumstances of these current cases, I can see so many times they could have used a taser gun. The very first person that was shot, they asked him his name and information, and he turned around to go to his car to get his ID, and they shot him in the back. Unarmed, everything. Now, you don't think they could have tased him if they thought that he was going to get a gun? He didn't even reach his car.

MARTIN: Do you think that race is a part of this, Congresswoman? I have noted that all of the deceased are African-American, and all the officers involved are Hispanic. I don't know whether that's relevant, and I wonder if you think it is or have any reason to believe that it might be relevant.

Rep. WILSON: I think that we have to all come to that conclusion simply by the video that I talked to you about that they are using in the police facility to train. And they're - all of the victims are African-American. All the police officers who are calling themselves hunters and predators are all Hispanic.

So, it's amazing that they are doing that in this day and time. I mean, we're -this is America. This is the United States, and this is unconscionable.

MARTIN: Just for clarity, the video was part of, as I understand it, a reality television pilot called "Miami's Finest SOS," which the chief did back but has never aired.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson is the Democratic representative from Florida's 17th District. It includes some parts of Miami, and she joined us from her office in Miami. Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us. We'd like to speak with you again as we follow the story.

Rep. WILSON: Thank you. Thank you so much.

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