In the wake of the public exposure of a racist video and racist text messages among four ex-Fort Lauderdale cops, the Fort Lauderdale/Broward NAACP, backed by Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, announced Friday that it is digging deep to root out racism in the police force.
“With information we’ve received and expect to receive, we believe that the four officers are not even the tip of the iceberg,” said Marsha Ellison, president of the NAACP’s local chapter. She added that the local effort had the full backing of the NAACP’s national office.
Ellison announced the creation of an NAACP Hotline that will operate out of the civil rights group’s local office. The hotline, created to field complaints about police abuse, was necessitated in the face of what she and Finkelstein defined as a decades-old culture of racist policing and internal FLPD policies that undermine police accountability. The NAACP Hotline number is 954-764-7604.
“Others knew about the texts and video and said nothing,” said Ellison. In an internal affairs investigation, several other officers admitted they’d known about the racist video but did not report it.
Ellison stated that with testimony obtained from local victims, “we’ll then draw a roadmap for the [Department of Justice]” to investigate further.
Finkelstein wrote last Wednesday to the DoJ’s acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, Vanita Gupta, requesting “a full investigation into civil rights violations perpetrated by members of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.”
Responding to a reporter’s question as to whether the firing of low-level officers, rather than calling for the firing of higher-level brass, including Chief Frank Adderley, would make a sufficient impact, Ellison replied that “Firing Chief Adderley won’t change a thing.”
Cassandra Jordan, a parent, recounted a private meeting with Adderley several years ago from which she came away believing she would get some relief from what she described as daily police harassment of her and her children. That harassment, she claimed, included instances of being called the “N-word” by officers including Alex Alvarez, as well as continually being photographed, videotaped, and followed by a revolving retinue of FLPD cops.
“We couldn’t even have a garage sale without the cops showing up,” she said.
According to Jordan, a single mother of four, the meeting with the chief changed nothing.
Michelle Davis described a similar outcome after complaining to the department last year when her then-17-year-old son was picked up on a charge of stealing a scooter.
She said her son had been kicked in the head by an officer during the arrest and, upon asking to be taken to Broward General Hospital to deal with his injury, instead was driven to a nearby abandoned lot where two officers proceeded to take turns beating the juvenile with their fists.
Although she complained, no investigation ensued.
The NAACP’s Ellison said there was a major systemic shortcoming whereby complaints about cops, rather than being referred to the department’s internal affairs division, have been handled by their supervisors. This flaw is one of the issues that Ellison and Finkelstein are hoping will be addressed in a federal probe.
“This has been a long time coming,” the public defender said.
“But this is not surprising,” he added, referring to the four ex-cops. “What’s surprising is that they were so emboldened to do what they did. There’s a subculture that’s existed in the department for decades, and it’s not just prejudice or discrimination when you have men with badges and guns” engaging in violent and racist behavior.
“When you have black kids, when they walk out the door,” said Finkelstein, “you don’t know if they’re going to be safe.”