With the increased visibility of police officers killing unarmed black men and boys surfacing in the media, the wide scale demonstrations of outrage and protest traveling throughout the United States and in countries around the world, and investigations by the Justice Department into allegations of racial bias in policing, one would anticipate that police force officials might begin to assess procedures, at the very least, to give the impression they are willing to correct any appearance of racial profiling of black and brown people. I suppose, however, the Chief of the North Miami Beach Police Department in Florida never got that memo.
What members of the Florida National Guard found when they showed up at a shooting range for their annual weapons qualifying training shocked and angered them. Before they arrived, the North Miami Beach Police Department conducted sniper training at the site using mug shots of African American men for target practice, and for some reason, they failed to removed the pictures. For one of the members of the Guard, Seargent Valerie Deant, this was extremely traumatic. One of the hanging mug shots was of her brother, Woody Deant, with a clear bullet hole in one of his eyes and another in the center of his forehead.
The Police Department took Woody Deant’s mug shot in 2000 after his arrest for drag racing that resulted in the death of two people. He served a 4-year prison sentence, and today he is a respected member of his community as a father, husband, and employee.
North Miami Beach Police Chief, J. Scott Dennis, defended the practice of using actual photographs in target practice because he argued that it is important for facial recognition drills. While in this particular instance, all the faces profiled included African Americans, he asserted that this is not always the case since his department uses faces of all races in its target practice trainings.
A Florida news station, NBC 6, contacted a number of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to determine whether this type of police training is a widespread practice. Every law enforcement agency contacted stated they use only commercially produced targets, and never photographs of human beings for target practice.
What am I missing here? Why does Chief J. Scott Dennis believe it to be good policy and practice to further target (literally and figuratively) people who have paid for their past mistakes? Does he think his policy has no real impact on the loved ones of those whose pictures his officers blast away? Does this not fall under the category of “cruel and unusual punishment”? Does this not, in fact, promote racial profiling? Does this not, in fact, produce further distrust of police departments by the communities they are meant to serve? Does this practice not produce some sort of sadistic thrill on the part of the trainees? And if so, does this thrill not transfer when shootings real people?
Most importantly, how does Chief Dennis’s target exercise impress upon his officers that black lives or that any lives matter? Maybe Chief Dennis needs to rethink his policies, and go back to reading his memos. Our hands are up Mr. Dennis. Don’t shoot!
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).