Miami Batlles Political Fallout In Wake Of Police Shootings

The controversy around a spate of shootings involving police in Miami has pitted the city's mayor against its embattled police chief. Seven men have been shot and killed by police in the past eight months. Two were reportedly unarmed. Mayor Tomas Regalado has joined calls by the city's predominately black inner-city communities for Miami Police Department Chief Miguel Exposito to resign. Host Michel Martin discusses the political fallout and background to the shootings with Charles Rabin, a reporter with the Miami Herald, who's been covering the story.

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MICHELE MARTIN, host:

And now we go to reporter Charles Rabin. He's been covering this story for the Miami Herald newspaper. We thought he could give us some additional perspective, and he's with us now from the news room.

Charles Rabin, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. CHARLES RABIN (Reporter, Miami Herald): Hi, Michele, how you doing?

MARTIN: Now, you heard both the chief give his perspective, and you also heard the congresswoman give her perspective. I'd like to ask you, what is your sense of how this incident is - these series of incidents are being viewed by the community in Miami. Obviously there are multiple communities.

If you could just give us an assessment of how you think this whole situation is being viewed by the public.

Mr. RABIN: Obviously the entire community is concerned. To say that, you know, I don't - I haven't seen polls done in the black community, but you know, there are pockets of groups that have been protesting. There have been vigils held. The congresswoman has done some things. There's a commissioner in the city of Miami who has had some issues with it.

You know, I don't - it's hard to tell exactly where the support is, but there's concern everywhere about what's been going on.

MARTIN: The chief implied that the mayor's change of heart about his status is due to politics. I just wanted to assess - I just wanted to ask you, what has the relationship been between the mayor and the police chief?

Mr. RABIN: The mayor supported the police chief initially when he appointed him, and yes, there was a video gaming ordinance that passed that the police chief had fought since day one. But that passed in May. The first of the shootings was in July. As the shootings picked up, you know, the mayor was front and center at the first few shootings, the chief's correct about that.

And politics has a lot to do with it. But as the shootings picked up, the steam picked up, the community got more upset about it, and for - there may be some backdoor politics that have to do with it, but you know, the mayor has used it to say that he believes the chief has to go, as has Commissioner Richard Dunn.

MARTIN: Now, the - this isn't the first time there has been concern about the level of aggressiveness or the tactics used by the Miami Police Department, and this is not the first time that race has been, you know, at least raised as a part of the story. Can you compare the current situation to sort of past -incidents in the past where Miami has confronted these issues. Is...

Mr. RABIN: Sure. I think Congresswoman Wilson's right. You know, if you go back 15 years or so, Miami has a history of problems in the black community with the police department. There were a lot of cases - I believe Justice was in here around 2000 with a lot of bad shoots and some attempts to cover it up. There have been riots in the past, the McDuffie riots, and some others.

A lot of it, you know, has - a lot of it had to do with the anger over, you know, a large Hispanic police department and a lot of and African-Americans who were being shot. It's a historical thing that, you know, people had hoped was gone for a long time, and you know, people are concerned that it's bubbling up again.

The congresswoman is right. You know, the commission has asked for calm, she has, others have as well, and that's probably why the community has been so good about this to this point.

MARTIN: We have about a minute left. I'd like to ask you what steps do you see going forward? The congresswoman has asked for a Justice Department investigation. I don't know whether that is going forward. Are there any local steps being taken to address this beyond what we've already heard? In about a minute.

Mr. RABIN: Sure. As the chief said, in every police-involved shooting, the state attorney takes a look at it and determines whether it was a good shoot or a bad shoot. The city has something called the Civilian Investigative Panel, which is a citizen panel created by a vote of the public that is to oversee the police department. They also have subpoena power.

They have chosen to begin looking at the shootings, looking at the first one first. They have asked the police chief for all the records involved in it, which is a tough thing to do with an ongoing investigation that hasn't been closed out yet, but the chief has determined that he's not going to hand over those records. So they're kind of tied up and locked right now.

Also, Paul Phillip from the FBI, which was mentioned before, is looking at department policy, and looking into, you know, what the chief has done, and he's supposed to pass on his thoughts fairly soon.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. RABIN: It's a little too early to make assumptions based on, you know, one piece of paper that came out that people were talking about.

MARTIN: All right. Charles Rabin is a reporter with the Miami Herald. He's been covering this story. Charles Rabin, thank you so much for joining us. Do keep us posted.

Mr. RABIN: Thanks, Michele.

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