January 21, 2021
Attorneys join protesters to call for civilian police oversight and repeal of Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights
By Adriana Brasileiro

A group of public defense attorneys joined protesters in downtown Miami on Monday afternoon to demonstrate against police brutality and call for more accountability. 

About a hundred protesters gathered in front of the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s office downtown and marched around the block to the office of Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who has been a frequent target of protests for being too lenient with cops accused of using excessive force. 

Monday marked the 10th consecutive day of protests in Miami-Dade, as mostly peaceful demonstrations against police brutality raged in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on Memorial Day.

“We all work in the system,” said Nicole Almeida Sinder, an attorney who is the president of the Greater Miami chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Calls for police reforms, which have set the tone for demonstrations across the country and in many parts of the world, are growing louder two weeks after the world watched a videotape of the police officer, Derek Chauvin, driving his knee into Floyd’s neck while he lay face down on the ground, uttering, “I can’t breathe.”

Over the weekend, protesters in Wynwood, Homestead and even in suburban Miami Lakes gathered to appeal for an end to abusive police tactics and systemic racism. While the demonstrations were largely peaceful, there were a few tense moments: Sunday night, scores of protesters climbed onto Interstate 95 from an embankment near Wynwood but couldn’t get down. A line of police officers had to escort the group to a safe exit spot near Northwest 27th Street. 

A few clashes occurred on Saturday in Miramar, Wynwood and around Florida International University, but the demonstrations were far more calm than the previous weekend, when several Miami police cars were set ablaze, some stores were looted at Bayside Marketplace and cops used tear gas to disperse protesters in Fort Lauderdale. One protester, LaToya Ratlieff, was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet

Still, protests were mostly peaceful, leading Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to lift a countywide curfew that’s been in effect for over a week. His office also announced that beaches in Miami-Dade will reopen on Wednesday after a more than two-month closure.

The mood in downtown Miami on Monday was calm, as Sinder talked to the group of protesters about how Florida must do a better job prosecuting police officers accused of brutality.

She said that a group of public attorneys had planned the protest in support of the black community. 

While police oversight in Miami-Dade is already in the works in the form of a proposed police civilian oversight board, Sinder said that’s not enough.

“It’s never going to have the county teeth we want it to so long as the Policeman’s Bill of Rights is law in Florida,” she said, explaining that the law undermines police accountability in the state. 

Sinder added that Florida is one of 14 states that have these protections, which she says must be repealed. 

The Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights protects police officers from investigation and prosecution arising from conduct during official performance of their duties. 

Critics say that these rights, which some states have turned into laws, make it impossible to discipline or remove bad officers, even after they have been convicted of felonies. That’s why protesters want the creation of civilian review boards that provide oversight over police actions.

“You need to reach out. You need to send emails. You need to call; it doesn’t end here, please,” Sinder told the crowd.

Protesters, many of whom were affiliated with the public defender’s office, called out Fernandez Rundle’s leniency toward police officers during her tenure.

The longtime Miami-Dade state attorney has been severely criticized for a track record of not prosecuting police officers accused of brutality, including fatal shootings. 

Responding to the criticism last week, Fernandez Rundle called Floyd’s death “senseless” and pushed back against claims she is soft on police officers. She said in a statement that her office has secured trial convictions against a North Miami police officer who shot at an autistic man holding a toy truck, and a Miami police officer who slammed a hospital nurse to the ground.

But protesters don’t seem to be convinced. Fernandez Rundle’s upcoming election remained top of mind for many protesters, who called for people to vote against her in the Aug. 18 primary.

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! KFR has got to go,” protesters chanted.