A Florida police department recently showed unconscionable bad taste and insensitivity to the underlying racial tensions that have swept the U.S. in recent years. The police in the North Miami area of Florida reportedly used photos of black men as the target when they practiced at a shooting range. The pictures were not silhouettes or cutouts, but rather actual photos from their mug shot files. What were they thinking?
The surprising discovery was made by an African American member of the Florida Army National Guard 13th Army Band. The musician, Sgt. Valerie Deant, came to a shooting range with other soldiers. They arrived right after a group of snipers from the North Miami Beach Police Department had been practicing. Deant was shocked to find a photo of her brother, along with photos of other black men, in the target spots.
Deant’s immediate reaction – beyond shock, tears and a call to her brother – was questioning why her brother’s photo was being used for target practice, and had actually been shot multiple times. It turned out the photo was from a group of mug shots, all of minority men, which were serving as targets. (Deant’s then 18-year-old brother had been arrested 15 years ago for involvement in a deadly drag race.) The shooting range management has told the media that any images to be used as targets are selected by the shooters renting the range.
The shooting range incident has struck a nerve in Florida, where police departments have drawn considerable criticism over shootings and harsh treatment of suspects. J. Scott Dennis, the North Miami Beach Police Chief, acknowledged that his officers could have used better judgment. He has also admitted that the decision to use mug shots just of black men that day was ill considered, but that no rules had been broken.
Dennis also denied there was any racial profiling and claimed his department also uses pictures of whites and Hispanics. Furthermore, he indicated that the sniper team includes minority officers.
The Deant family questions why officers were firing at targets with images of real people. In addition, why the photos were solely of African-Americans at a time when relations between police and minority communities are fraught with tension.
The North Miami Police Department chief claimed that the use of actual photographs is a widely used law enforcement technique, because the pictures are vital for facial recognition drills. However, the local NBC affiliate reported that it contacted federal and state law enforcement agencies and five nearby police departments that deploy SWAT and sniper teams to see if this indeed is a common practice. They reported that the law enforcement agencies contacts indicated that they only use commercially produced targets, not photos of actual human beings.
The Deants wound up contacting attorney Andell Brown, who acknowledges that the family is weighing legal options. “Nobody expects to come across their family member as a target at a shooting range,” he said, also noting that the use of photos of actual people, and in this case solely black people, for target practice by Florida police is extremely disturbing.
By Dyanne Weiss