Alexandra harris / for south florida times
Using their structured approach to engaging and empowering communities of color, the Dream Defenders brought together the family of Lavall Hall and members of the community to discuss his death and how to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
The Saturday morning meeting attracted about 75 people who convened at Bethany Baptist church in Miami Gardens in response to the Feb. 15 shooting of Hall, 25.
Hall’s mother, Christine Daniels, said that she called Miami Gardens police early that morning for help with taking her son to a mental health facility. Instead, her son, whom the family said was schizophrenic, was shot to death by an officer.
Creating a safe space for people to share their feelings and vent frustrations validates their experience and helps to galvanize community, critical aspects of systemic reform, according to Steve Pargett, communications director for Dream Defenders. Miami Gardens’ officials and the police department were not invited, said Pargett, who explained that the purpose of the meeting was not to hear from them but to allow the family and community to come together, share their feelings and plan their next steps.
The community gathering began with a welcome by the Dream Defenders and comments from the slain man’s mother. As she leaned against a family member who held onto her, Christine Daniels began to cry as she spoke, barely above a whisper, about her loss.
She then joined one of several smaller break-out groups where different facilitators from Dream Defenders encouraged people to share their experiences with the police. The group leaders also solicited input for how to hold the Miami Gardens’ police department accountable for Hall’s death.
Audience members’ experiences were written on Post-It notes and displayed on a timeline that included the deaths of several blacks from across the nation who died at the hands of the police. The diagram included the 1999 shooting death of 22-year old Amadou Diallo in New York, Ferguson Missouri teen Michael Brown, Eric Garner, the New York man choked to death by a police officer and Hall’s Feb. 15th shooting death. The display also included statistics on the number of people “stopped and frisked” by the Miami Gardens police department (99,980 total stops that did not lead to arrests), from 2008 to 2013.
The department’s former police chief, Matthew Boyd, resigned following the “stop and frisk” scandal, and was replaced by current chief, Stephen Johnson, who has vowed to embrace community policing.
Hall’s cousin, Gerald Daniels, said that he’s not optimistic about the police being held responsible. “We already know what the verdict is going to be.” He added, “People don’t even feel safe calling the police.”
Howard Roan, 39, used to coach Hall when the man was a youngster playing Little League football. He said that he was unaware of Hall’s mental problems. “He was kind of laid back,” said Roan, who took issue with the police using deadly force to stop Hall.
“This man was waving a broomstick,” he said. “If you don’t see that a man with a broomstick is not a threat, that’s a problem.” Roan said that the city’s decision to hire police officers from across the nation who are not familiar with Miami Gardens is a part of the problem.
The Miami Gardens resident said that officers once knocked on his door asking for directions to a location that was nowhere near his house. “These officers have no clue,” he added.
Police Chief Johnson told reporters last week that Hall charged at two of his officers and attacked them with a broomstick. Johnson also told reporters that the officers deployed their stun guns in vain and one officer fired his weapon five times. Two bullets hit Hall, killing him.
The incident that resulted in Hall’s death was apparently captured on a dash cam in an officer’s police car, however, the video has not been made public. Dream Defender Danny Agnew said “the focus is on getting the video released.”
He also emphasized how important it is for the community to remain vigilant. “When we actually do stand up, it shakes them up. We have got to stick with it,” he said.
Johnson told reporters that the video would be released to the public in the near future and that it will verify that the officers’ actions were justified.