Miami Beach Police face charges of anti-gay harassment
The Miami Beach Police Department has come under fire from local activists who contend a pending lawsuit’s claim a gay man was harassed and wrongfully arrested by two police officers prove homophobia within the force.
The complaint, brought forth by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida earlier this month on behalf of former Miami resident Harold Strickland, alleges the MBPD arrested Strickland on false charges after he witnessed and reported two officers brutally attacking another man in Flamingo Park last March. After he had seen two uniformed men punching and kicking a handcuffed man’s head "as if ... kicking a football," the officers came after Strickland, hurling anti-gay slurs at him and eventually arresting him in on a loitering-or-prowling charge.
The charges against both Strickland and the man being attacked were eventually dropped, owing to major discrepancies between the officers’ testimonies and the information Strickland described to the 911 dispatcher as he witnessed the incident. The ACLU would like to see criminal charges levied against the officers.
Robert Rosenwald, director of the ACLU of Florida’s LGBT Advocacy Project, said the Strickland case is only the latest example of a long-standing problem in Miami Beach. He said his office routinely receives complaints of police officers harassing, intimidating and chasing gay men out of the area with claims "this is not the gay area anymore."
"This is a problem that’s been going on for years and we’ve been looking for a case to challenge it for a long time," Rosenwald told EDGE. "Officers have been making things up, trumping up charges and beating them. I think Miami Beach needs to face the fact that it is not as gay-friendly as it needs to be."
When news of the pending lawsuit broke, the city’s gay activists considered organizing a march to highlight the incident. In response, the city’s police department, while claiming it was previously unaware of the incident, put officers Frankly Forte and Elliot Hazzi on desk duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega and City Manager Jorge Gonzalez attended a previously planned meeting with a committee of gay business owners the following week. It addressed the incident as part of a larger conversation on building bridges between the city’s gay residents and the MBPD in light of previous complaints of increased violence in the area.