Sheila McNeil wants answers about why a Miami police officer shot and killed her son, one of seven black men who died from police bullets over the past seven months.
McNeil had a chance to ask her question when she became the first relative of any of the slain men to meet Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito.
The closed-door meeting took place Wednesday at the Miami police headquarters, 400 NW Second Ave. in downtown Miami, according to Miami Police Public Information Officer Commander Delrish Moss.
Sheila’s son, Travis McNeil, 28, was fatally shot on Feb. 10 when he and his cousin Kareem Williams, 30, were pulled over by Miami police at the corner of North Miami Avenue and Northwest 75th Street. Both men were unarmed.
Mary Williams, the mother of another victim, has accepted Exposito’s offer to meet him but has not yet done so, Moss said. “Mrs. Williams was accepting of the chief’s offer to meet but needs time to grieve. She did say there may be room for a meeting later,” Moss said.
Williams’ son DeCarlos Moore, 36, was also unarmed when he was shot to death during a July 2010 traffic stop in Overtown.
Richard Williams, another of Williams’ sons, said in an interview Wednesday morning that no one from Miami police had contacted the family. “No one sent a letter; a representative never came to us or contacted our attorney about a meeting,” he said.
Richard Williams called South Florida Times to complain that the first time the family heard about a meeting with Exposito was on television news.
He said a neighbor knocked on their door, saying, "Hey, turn on the news. The chief wants to meet with you. My mother then contacted our attorney, who said that he was not contacted either [by the police].
It just really upset me to see it for the first time on the news. Who would trust meeting with Exposito after all of this?"
Williams said a meeting between his family and their attorney and the state attorney and a representative from the Miami police was being discussed but had not been scheduled. "And that's not the meeting Exposito is having with the families," he said.
The hardest part, he said, was "seeing my mom go through this, on her knees every night crying and praying to God as if she did something wrong. This just adds to everything."
Moss said that he is reaching out to two families at a time to allow them time to respond and schedule meetings with Exposito.
Bishop Victor T. Curry, president of the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP, said the offer of the meeting would get a mixed response.
“When it’s personal like that, sometimes, and for some people, that helps with closure,” Curry said in an interview this week. “For others, that’s not going to work. To have the chief of the police department that’s responsible for your child’s death reach out several weeks and months later, it’s probably not going to help them. Some families may want to sit down with him to get answers; others may feel the problem is deeper.”
It took community pressure for Exposito to decide to meet with the families, Curry said. “But you would think it would be the first response of the chief, not the last resort. That’s not even sensitive to the needs of the families.”
To keep Exposito from having to make these kinds of visits, Curry said, “we have to revisit how they police our community.”
Exposito is scheduled to discuss community and police relations at a meeting slated for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28, at St. John Baptist Church, 1328 NW Third Ave. in Overtown. The agenda has not yet been released.
Curry has meanwhile invited civil rights activist, the Rev. Al Sharpton, to address the community at the NAACP’s branch meeting scheduled also for Monday at Second Baptist Church, 11111 Pinkston Drive, Richmond Heights in South Miami-Dade County.
The key agenda item of that meeting will highlight recent shootings of black men by both city and county police. Also up for discussion is the November 2010 death of Akil LaRue Oliver, who was beaten to death with a crowbar allegedly by the two co-owners of a QuickStop in Perrine.
Curry also announced that Sharpton’s address to the NAACP meeting will be one of three appearances the New York City-based leader will make while in the area.
Sharpton will also speak at New Birth Baptist Church, 2300 NW 135th St., Opa-locka, during the 11 a.m. service on Sunday, Feb. 27. Curry is founder and bishop of the church.
Sharpton will address the community at a 3:30 p.m. rally also on Sunday at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, 1140 NW 62nd St. in Liberty City.
Curry said that he is not suggesting that criminals should be allowed to go free, adding, “You arrest them, but you do not become judge, jury and executioner right there on the spot.”
Anyone who draws a gun on a police officer or does anything that will cause harm to an officer, Curry said, “we can’t defend that.”
“But we are dealing with issues now where there are no guns to be found. When we come to the police and say ‘we want you to help us with the criminal element in our community,’ for some reason the city of Miami police department interprets that as ‘let’s go kill some people.’”
Richard Williams said people seemed reluctant to say whether the killings were about race, adding, “But when I have been pulled over while in a car with my Hispanic friends, the tone of the police is different when they look at their faces. It's to the point that I feel safer in the car if they are driving. In fact, I prefer it."
Curry said the call is for police to “treat our community like you treat every other community.”
Cynthia Roby may be contacted at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.