jawan strader_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

Police shooting of black men surfaced as a campaign issue in the race for Miami-Dade mayor when several of the candidates spoke at a sparsely attended forum on April 25 in Overtown.

“No one cares about what goes on in our neighborhoods,” said Luther Campbell, former rapper turned businessman and civic activist. “When you have a commissioner that has the nerve to go on television and say to ‘shoot if the person is a felon,’ and you have eight people dead … It’s a lack of respect for our community.”

After the first police killing of an innocent person, Campbell said, “the police chief would be fired.”

Wilbur Bell, entrepreneur and former Redland Community Council member, did not attend because of a prior engagement. He said in an interview after the meeting that when a policeman shoots a citizen, 99 percent of the time it is ruled as justifiable homicide.

“They can shoot you even if you are running away. That’s the law and it has to be re-written. Otherwise, nothing will change,” said Bell.

Eddie Lewis, a retired Miami-Dade police officer, said part of the problem is “people don’t want to snitch, don’t want to tell what’s going on. All this shoot-to-kill… police need to be forced to shoot to wound, especially if the perpetrator has no weapon.”

The comments were sparked by a question from the forum moderator, Jawan Strader, a Channel 4 news anchor. It related to the killing of eight young black men since last June by city of Miami police.

The Rev. Anthony Tate, president of People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality (PULSE), who is not a candidate, said the predominantly black District 5 has a “high volume” of convicted felons who have served time and have now returned to the community and cannot get jobs.

“I need to know what’s being done to put them back into the society, make them prideful members of the community,” said Tate, who is pastor of New Resurrection Community Church in Liberty City,Roosevelt Bradley, a candidate, said as a former county transit director, he instituted just such a program.

“If you were a convicted felon and had not committed a crime in the past three to five years, we gave you an opportunity for a job,” Bradley said.

The only stipulation was that the person was not convicted of homicide or rape, Bradley said.

“A couple hundred of those individuals are still working today. I would take the model for that same program and continue to do it,” he said.

Nothing should keep a person that has paid his debt to society from being productive, Lewis said. “But first we’ve got to step up to the plate with education. That will help prevent it from happening at all.”

The forum was sponsored by the Miami-Dade Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials and was held at Booker T. Washington High School, 1200 NW Sixth Ave. in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. About 25 people showed up.

A total of 11 candidates are in the running to succeed Carlos Alvarez, who was ousted as mayor in a special recall election. Voting will take place on May 24.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff election on June 28.

Cynthia Roby can be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.