In an extreme new case of a man getting arrested for walking while black in Florida, the Miami Herald today published an investigation into the case of Earl Sampson, a black convenience store employee who’s been stopped-and-frisked 258 times by Miami Gardens Police in the past four years. Sampson, 28, has been searched at least 100 times often during work hours, arrested 62 times, and jailed 56 times. His most serious charge is for possession of marijuana, but most other charges are for trespassing–in and around the store where he is employed.
Alex Saleh, the owner of 207 Quickstop where Sampson works, says he’s not the only black employee who’s been harassed by police. In a series of disturbing videos captured by 15 security cameras Saleh had installed (to catch police, not people attempting to steal), among other things you see police walking into the convenience store multiple times to take workers into custody (seemingly without warning) and slam a customer to the ground.
Miami Gardens Police officers appear to be acting under a new “zero-tolerance” program intended to take a hard-line approach to stopping crime in a neighborhood that has an increasing homicide rate, and is home to mostly black residents. Saleh signed on to participate initially, but says he didn’t realize the extent to which police officers would go to enforce, and regrets having signed on.
Saleh, whose store is tucked between a public park and working-class neighborhoods, contends that Miami Gardens police officers have repeatedly used racial slurs to refer to his customers and treat most of them like they are hardened criminals.
“Police line them up and tell them to put their hands against the wall. I started asking myself ‘Is this normal?’ I just kept thinking police can’t do this,” Saleh said.
Last year, Saleh, armed with a cache of videos, filed an internal affairs complaint about the arrests at his store. From that point, he said, police officers became even more aggressive.
One evening, shortly after he had complained a second time, a squadron of six uniformed Miami Gardens police officers marched into the store, he says. They lined up, shoulder to shoulder, their arms crossed in front of them, blocking two grocery aisles.
“Can I help you?” Saleh recalls asking. It was an entire police detail, known as the department’s Rapid Action Deployment (RAD) squad, whom he had come to know from their frequent arrest sweeps. One went to use the restroom, and five of them stood silently for a full 10 minutes. Then they all marched out.
Saleh is in the process of filing a federal civil rights lawsuit on Sampson’s behalf.
Read the full story at the Miami Herald.