The Pink and Yellow Duplex Part V
NOTE: This is part of an ongoing effort for accountability and transparency following the fatal police shooting of my neighbor, Howard Wallace Bowe Jr., during a botched SWAT raid in May 2014. Previous writings on this subject can be found here: Part I: Howard Bowe and Police Militarization (September 2014); Part II: Peace Talks (February 2015); Part III: Social Justice Delayed is Social Justice Denied (December 2015); Part IV: On the Road to Reform? (August 2016).
Black Lives Matter is a statement. For those who counter that ALL lives matter—such as the man yelling it repeatedly at protestors outside Hallandale Beach City Hall on March 1—it might go without saying that black lives, of course, indeed matter. However, in Hallandale Beach, a small city hugging the border between Broward and Dade Counties in South Florida, it is worthwhile to explore whether the statement “Black Lives Matter” is a factual one or merely a hypothetical one.
On March 1, dozens of residents came to Hallandale Beach City Hall to petition for a Special Meeting to discuss issues of discriminatory policing and discriminatory treatment by the City toward the black community. Protestors marched, chanted, and carried signs calling out the City government for its treatment of its own people. Speaker after speaker spoke to the newly restructured government about the need to address longstanding problems of injustice, inequality, and outright hostility.
Although two of the commissioners singled out for criticism—Keith London and Michele Lazarow—had little or nothing to say in response to the outcry, the City agreed to hold a publicly-noticed meeting within 30 days. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 28 at Foster Park in Northwest Hallandale—the epicenter of the issues. Below is a summary of the history and the issues that have led up to the demand for such a meeting.
The Racial Climate in Hallandale
The history of Hallandale, from long before it was renamed Hallandale Beach in 1999, is a story that developed in black and white. Segregation and the Dixie Railroad tracks divided the City, providing a stark contrast between the East and the West.
The East side is the Hallandale Beach the City showcases. The East is the side of the city you can see when you perform a Google Image search for “Hallandale Beach.” The East has the beaches, the high rises, the country clubs, the casinos, and City Hall. For much of Hallandale’s history, it truly mattered if the black lives from the West crossed Dixie Highway into the whites-only East section -of the city.
In the segregated West, a very different culture emerged. Northwest Hallandale, a/k/a, The Palms, developed as a stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit—safe spaces where black artists could perform during segregation. Legendary artists such as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and James Brown came to Northwest Hallandale because it was the only part of Hallandale where they were allowed. The history of segregation in Hallandale and the racial divide between the East and West can literally be seen in black and white on the walls of the Foster Park Community Center in Northwest Hallandale. In the post-segregation era, promises to invest in the Northwest and make improvements in the Northwest have been broken again and again and again.
The Current Temperature in Hallandale Beach
For much of Hallandale’s history, the residents of the West have mattered less where it matters most—City Hall. In the ninety year history of Hallandale, the City has had only three black Commissioners. Only recently has the City seen its first black City Manager, City Attorney, or Chief of Police. For much of Hallandale’s past, the City government (save for the sanitation and landscaping departments) has consisted of little to no minority representation. Following last November’s election, a reorganization of the government has threatened the progress the black community has made over the decades. Many fear a return to the old ways.
It would be unfair to say that black lives do not matter to the City Commission. But it is fair to question how black lives matter and whether those lives matter equal to other lives within the City’s borders. Recent comments by Vice Mayor Keith London referring to residents of the Northwest as an example of “the inmates running the asylum” ignited many to denounce his remarks, his tone, and his seeming lack of interest in representating all of his constituents. Although Commissioner Anthony Sanders called for the Vice Mayor to apologize for his remarks, London condescendingly smirked as speaker after speaker called him out for racism and indecency. The need for a Special Meeting was demonstrated by showing how often concerns in the Northwest are ignored or dismissed by sitting Commissioners who refuse to address issues of critical importance.
More than 300 people signed a petition calling for the Special Meeting specifically to discuss the City’s response to multiple police shootings and SWAT raids that appear to have disproportionately targeted citizens in the West. It has been more than two-and-a-half years since my neighbor, Howard Bowe, was killed in a botched SWAT raid. Despite repeated efforts, I have been unable to get the City Commission to acknowledge—on the record—that Bowe’s life mattered. That his death matters. That his family and friends matter. Bowe is just one of four men shot and killed by the HBPD since 2012. The Commission’s silence on these incidents is unacceptable.
Although the Commission routinely invokes the terms accountability and transparency, there is little of either in the wake of these shootings—the most recent of which happened less than a year ago. Organizers calling for the Special Meeting compiled and sent the City Manager the following questions that deserve to be discussed in an open and honest manner in order to begin crafting workable solutions:
The Importance of a Special Meeting
Over the past two years, Hallandale has held several town halls and community forums where residents have voiced complaints of discriminatory policing and excessive use of force. These complaints appear to fall on deaf ears of Commissioners who refuse to believe such problems exist.
Following last November’s election, the local government in Hallandale Beach has undergone a radical transformation. On the Commission, voting power has shifted away from the Mayor in favor of the new Vice Mayor. This shift resulted in the firing of both the City Manager and the City Manager, resulting in a much less diverse group of City leaders. Black residents who have routinely been treated as second-class citizens in the past are fearful that the new City leaders will not hear the true history of the City and the historic challenges the black community in Hallandale has faced, not only in the last century, but in this century as well.
Even speaking to the Commission during public meetings is problematic. Residents are given only three minutes to address the Commission when it is in session—which is only once every other week. New rules have restricted the content of what the public may say during public meetings. Speakers are prohibited from criticizing individual Commissioners, a move apparently designed to shield Commissioners who are inappropriate or disrespectful toward their constituents. New rules also prohibit the audience from applauding or voicing approval/disapproval for speakers and/or their positions. These rules limit how groups of residents can work together to express approval or disapproval of the City’s actions.
The treatment the community demands is not limited to treatment by the police. It is an issue of equality with respect to investments, education, opportunity, and respect. It is my hope that the City recognizes the upcoming Special Meeting as simply one step in addressing the inequality present in Hallandale Beach. It is my hope that City leaders are open to long-term solutions. Unless the City is willing to commit to resolving racial injustices, Hallandale Beach’s future may be virtually indistinguishable from Hallandale’s segregated past.
Posted in the loving memory of Rev. Josh Brown, the chaplain of the Hallandale Beach Police Department and passionate defender of the people of Northwest Hallandale.
Suggested citation: Brian M. Stewart, Do Black Lives Matter in Hallandale Beach?, @LawBlarg (Mar. 15, 2017), http://blarg.legalmechanics.us/do-black-lives-matter-in-hallandale-beach.