Almost everyone has by now heard the reports detailing the prevalence of racial profiling in the NYC-headquartered department store known as Barney’s. What hasn’t received the same amount of coverage, however, is what’s been happening at a tiny convenient store located in Miami Gardens, Florida, a place where racial profiling is carried out so often and so maliciously by police that the store-owner himself has had enough of it. In the case of the 207 Quick Stop, this tremendous amount of abuse by authorities is hardly relegated to the store’s customers. It extends to the employees as well, even as they try to do their work. The effects that this has had have convinced members of this small Florida community that they cannot remain silent any longer. It’s a case outrageous enough that it should put an end to any further discussion as to whether or not we are currently living in a ‘post-racist’ society. The likelihood of this racially Utopian society emerging anytime in the near-future is next to nil.
If one person knows above all others how detrimental the impact of the Miami Gardens Police Department’s racist tactics can be, it’s 28-year old 207 Quick Stop Store Clerk, Earl Sampson, who’s racked up an astonishingly high amount of arrests in the past four years through no fault of his own. According to the Miami Gardens Police Department’s own documents, which were obtained by the Miami Herald, Sampson was literally stopped and harassed by MGPD officers a total of 258 times, all of which occurred regardless of whether he was on his way to work, on his way back from work, or whether he was at work doing his job. Of these 258 instances, he was searched a total of 100 of them. And yet only one time of the 258 stops were cops ever able to find him in possession of anything, and that was an incredibly meager amount of pot. The charges most often heaped on Sampson include “trespassing” and “loitering”, but the police reports fail to make note that the place he’s accused of “trespassing” is the very same place he’s employed. He’s even been thrown in jail 52 times for these completely bunk charges. Apparently police in Miami Gardens wish to financially ruin this young man and other young Black men and women by trying to scare them into not showing up to their jobs for fear of being racially harassed and profiled. In Sampson’s own words, “I never felt they had any probable cause. They hop out of the car and search me before they even ask for my name.” All in all, records clearly show that Earl Sampson has been stopped and harassed by police on average at least once per week, sometimes as much as three times a day by the very same police officers for the past four years of his life.
The evidence supporting Sampson’s and other peoples’ claims of abuse at the hands of Miami Gardens police are overwhelming. Aside from the cops’ own reports, there’s the indisputable amount of documented evidence accumulated by the convenient store’s owner, Alex Saleh. Saleh, a 36-year old Venezuelan native who is of Palestinian descent, has gotten to know his employees over the years and says they are like family to him. Of Sampson’s arrest record, Saleh says, “[The police] created this record. He’s a good guy, a humble guy, a quiet guy. He’s not a convicted felon.” Lately police officers have been ramping up their already extreme methods of harassing Saleh’s customers and employees, and the store owner has several ideas as to why. It dates back to a number of years ago when the city proposed a so-called “zero-tolerance” policy which allowed for police “to arrest anyone for trespassing if seen on a property that is closed and the owner is not there.” Saleh initially signed his store on to the policy, but after the police did not implement the policy the way they said they would, he removed the “zero-tolerance” sign from his store and made it known that he no longer wished to partake in it. This served to further infuriate police, and 207 Quick Stop became the primary target of police occupation. “They’re just stopping anybody who walks in the city or who comes into my store,” explains Saleh. “You can’t violate peoples’ rights just by standing in front of a business.” Another possible motive deals with the fact that police “have specialized units to combat crime and they need to bring in the numbers to justify those units.”
The constant harassment became such a nuisance that Saleh was convinced he had to take action. Unbeknownst to police, he had a total of fifteen surveillance cameras installed inside and outside of the store. It’s certainly noteworthy that the installation of these cameras resulted not from a need or desire to catch thieves shoplifting from the store, but as a means of documenting the terrible abuses of the local police department. Some of the videos that have leaked and are viewable to the public offer startling evidence of the extreme measures police took to try and make Earl Sampson’s life a living hell. In addition to footage showing cops arresting Sampson for simply entering or leaving the store, police are seen attacking him, pinning him against a wall, and handcuffing him as he walks outside to take out the trash. One video in particular, which dates back to June of 2012, contradicts was written in a police report the very same night. The report states that Sampson was arrested, again, for “loitering” in front of the Quick Stop convenient store (which of course is where he works). Video footage from the surveillance camera however demonstrates that just the opposite happened. Not only was Sampson not loitering, but he was inside the store when he was arrested! The surveillance video shows Sampson performing the task of refilling the store’s cooler when, out of nowhere, Sergeant William Dunaske approaches him and sternly asks, “What are you doing here?” “I work here,” Sampson replies. But that doesn’t stop Dunaske from handcuffing Sampson and charging him with “trespassing.” What’s more, Alex Saleh informs the Sergeant, “I’m the owner; let him go”, to which Dunaske dismissively replied, “Yeah, right.” Other videos caught police officers “snooping behind the cash register area” and “flipping through some papers” that belonged to the store.
Earl Sampson isn’t the only citizen who’s found himself a constant target of the local police department, nor is the 207 Quick Stop necessarily the only business that’s been targeted by the MGPD’s repressive tactics. In the words of Alex Saleh says, “Not only the stores but the people in the community have been having a problem with the police.” Videos show that racism is widespread in the Miami Gardens Police Department. They include footage of customers being stopped and frisked, violently thrown to the ground, and taken into custody at random. As reported in an Op-ed piece written by Fabiola Santiago that appeared in the Miami Herald, “Every customer being harassed is black – some of them so poor they ride old bikes to the 207 Quick Stop convenience store in the 3100 block of Northwest 207th Street, the only place they can readily buy goods in their neighborhood.” Santiago also notes that “all the police officers involved are white.” Saleh also says there have been racial slurs used frequently on the part of the police to refer to his Black customers and employees, and notes that the cops “treat most of them [customers] like hardened criminals.”
City Officials for their part are standing 100% behind the local police force. Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert has even went so far as to accuse Alex Saleh of being “uncooperative” with the department of “internal affairs”, despite public records obtained by the Miami Herald proving Saleh has indeed handed seven videos over to Gary Smith, the commander of “internal affairs”, after being subpoenaed to. These harsh attacks by the city’s politicians which seek to undermine Saleh’s credibility have come in response to Saleh’s announcement that he will file a civil rights lawsuit against the city to be argued and decided before a federal court. Since then, local police officers have been following Saleh after work and stopping him without cause. One Sergeant, Martin Santiago, reportedly even threatened Saleh by warning him, “I’m going to get you mother-fucker.” Needless to say that Saleh is starting to fear for his own safety. The Officers are reportedly trying to intimidate members of the community into not speaking out as well. One of the Quick Stop’s customers who were named in the federal civil rights suit was recently approached and harassed by one of the accused officers – Officer Michael Malone.
Howard Simon, the executive director of the Florida ACLU, does not buy that the department’s abusive actions have gone unnoticed by Miami Gardens Chief of Police, Matthew Boyd. “In a police department in a city this size, this kind of behavior could not escape his attention,” says Simon. If recent events are anything to judge by, it’s apparent that the city is far from backing down on its severely repressive policies. In fact, as recently as November 22 the city announced it is intent on doubling down on this arcane “zero-tolerance” policy, further increasing the presence of police in what amounts to a colonially-occupied war zone.