Martin Luther King’s Nightmare: Celebrants shot on National Holiday

The following article was written by Dr. Shawn Schwaner, Article Summary:

  • ­  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday shooting
  • ­  Stream Analysis of violent crime
  • ­  The police and Procedural Justice
  • ­  Building Community using RedZone

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed that “I have a dream,” it was a call for peace. He noted that the great march had descended upon Washington D.C. to cash a “check that was returned for insufficient funds.” He noted, as did President Barack Obama in his 2008 victory speech that there is a “fierce urgency of now.” Dr. King was noting that the Civil Rights Movement was built around Thoreau’s idea of “civil disobedience” where protestors can speak in a democracy without fear of violent retaliation or repressive response. Of course, much like the Constitution, great thinkers and activists similarly believe that right to personal expression is central to freedom as men, and women, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought income equality, racial justice, and the right to live without the fear of violence.

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Thus, as we have recently celebrated Martin Luther King Day in the United States, violence and income inequity continue to challenge the full realization of the dream. Though there are streets and community centers named after the American icon, Dr. King’s dream still has miles to travel. As a matter of fact, the Martin Luther King celebration in Miami was abruptly interrupted with irony and nightmare when gunfire broke out in a Park named after King himself. To the consternation of bystanders and police eight people admiring the creed of one of America’s greatest leaders were shot and wounded by gunfire. His admonition to live peacefully was undermined in a grotesque display of overt and lethal violence.

News of the shooting spread to the news and was echoed in local businesses as well as public train and bus lines. Persons riding on the Miami Dade Transit Metrorail could be heard sharing their stories of awe and dismay at the outburst. Not only had violence broken out, it affected people who were miles away from the scene of the crime.

Certainly, in that violent moment, there were participants, bystanders, and others driving in their cars that were in the line of danger. Such events, though rare, in general, when they occur cause collateral chaos. Bystanders get injured, post­traumatic disorder arises, drivers get caught up in situations of imminent danger, and emergency personnel often cannot enter and effectively mobilize their resources to help those in most pressing need. The breakdown in communication can, and does, worsen an already bad situation.

RedZone has developed a real­time mapping and data identification system that permits members to obtain real­time notice that a “crime” event has taken place and the area should be avoided. Members who are on the scene can produce a “ping” that sends a warning to potential passers­by while providing alternative routes for those who are driving in the area. It can be safely asserted that the access to real­time crime data can help avert danger and in the extreme, save lives.

Incidents such as those at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park in Miami have a delirious effect of generating more fear of crime as well as strong and potentially targeted police response. As of January 24th, Miami­Dade Police Director Juan Perez, said, two people, a 17­-year-old and 18-year­old were arrested in the shooting. Community members, in the main, often want to place blame on the police for ineffective policing and call for town hall meetings, civilian reviews, and often, better training. In the aftermath of the Charles Kinsey shooting in North Miami, a Police Executive Research Forum was designed to provide the city with use of force and crisis intervention training review (2017, Dixon).

Officer Juan Perez said, “Enough is enough. The people are fed up with the violence,” said Perez. “If people use violence, force, we are going to hunt them down....What we ask is put the guns down. Stop the violence so we don’t have to have these conferences anymore.”

Though such training is important to such policing matters it makes a fundamental assumption about policing that is fallacious. Namely, it is typically impossible to be at the scene of a shooting because it is nearly impossible to predict what context is going to elicit the emotional response necessary for such outbursts. Thus, as is widely known, the police are forced by definition, to serve as a reactionary force.

As long as criminal justice practitioners response comes from a reactionary stance, it can only have little direct impact on fighting crime. Hiring more police, removing assault weapons, and the like, are often politically motivated perspectives based within a dominant “law and order” paradigm. Unfortunately, such practice creates a police­community division of “us” vs. “them.” After the Rodney King incident occurred in 1991 (reminiscent of the use of fire hoses during the Civil Rights Era and King’s ascent as one of its most prominent leaders) community policing became the rage.

While there are places and times in which “law and order” as well as “community policing” is needed, there is a new paradigm emerging called “crowdsourcing” that is becoming a part of the Miami vernacular, the use of procedural justice.

In a recent report written at the Miami-Dade College School of Justice for the City of Miami’s Goals not Guns initiative (Schwaner, Soccora, Pena, and Harrison, 2016), it was argued that a new perspective is needed in regard to police and community relationships. Procedural justice requires police transparency, respect, and to provide the community with a voice in processing and designing crime reduction initiatives.

It was suggested that there are underlying structural and cultural currents that shape the direction and strength of a crime river’s current. Fundamentally, the members of a community are linked together as a network that binds them together and serves as a buffer and inciter of behavior.

Unfortunately, the police are regarded in most models as standing on the banks waiting for crime to happen within the stream. The Procedural Justice model outlined by Goals not Guns suggest that it is imperative that the police stand in the stream with the community, interact at a real level, and use local social and cultural resources to curtail the letter of crime. Being a part of the communication system within the stream is proactive while waiting for a call to come in from a witness is reactive. It is likely that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he professed that he wanted his children to be “judged for the “content of their character and not the color of their skin” was suggesting that we should all be swimming in the same stream.

In this light, neither the community nor the police in isolation can curb the flow of violent crime. However, in working together and using targeted deterrence which relies upon hot spot crime maps, driving down the levels of crime can, and would, have a significant impact on the quality of life for many Americans. Tools such as Redzone can provide data to community members, the police, those who are planning to drive into and through neighborhoods, as well as neighbors themselves, information that builds community rather than breaks it.

RedZone’s interactive quality certainly has the breadth to aid in the reduction of crime as a communication device and warning system. When used as a tool of communication, Redzone has the utility of serving a crime reduction role that, at least, could avert such shootings at a celebration while realizing Dr. Kings vision of allowing “Light to Drive Out Hate.”