Philip Levine really should stop touting his "successful" police reforms in Miami Beach. He doesn't have any.
The I'm-a-changemaker story he tells African-Americans on the campaign trail is an effort to lure their vote, but the evidence doesn't back it up.
Look at the video clip from the last televised gubernatorial candidate debate displayed on this page. To hear the former mayor, he moved heaven and earth to make it so African-Americans would no longer have to fear their police department, that arrests of blacks would drop, that a new day of racial equity had dawned in the city. His message is that Miami Beach is a kinder, gentler place for black people to live.
"The issue today with politicians is, people say things a lot of times that they've never actually done before," he told Floridians during the debate. "When I became mayor, a few months before, an African-American male was shot 100-or-something times in his car Memorial Day weekend. I said, 'If I become mayor, I'll reform the police department,' and that's what I did.
"I put in a new chief, a deputy chief -- an African-American woman, the highest ranking in the history of our city -- we changed captains, we changed majors, we put cameras on our police before Ferguson. So it's important for people to say, 'Have you done it before?' I did it as a mayor of Miami Beach and I can tell you, when you do it, you don't get the police endorsement."
It's all baloney.
Who knows, maybe that's what Levine hoped would happen when he was elected mayor. But it never did.
For all the changes the mayor made when he took office in 2013, blacks in the city got bupkus.
In fact, they got worse than that.
In a city with a black population of only 4.4 percent, TOTAL arrests dropped slightly most years. But the percentage of arrests of African-Americans didn't go down a lick while Levine was mayor. In fact, the percentage kept climbing, year over year.
Statistics are all available online in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) records, available here.
Here's a quick glance at the Miami Beach numbers:
- 2013: 9,793 total arrests. Of those, 6,531 were whites, 3,227 were blacks. Blacks accounted for 32.91 percent of the arrests.
- 2014: 6,999 total arrests. Of those, 4,601 were whites, 2,353 were blacks. Blacks accounted for 33.61 percent of the arrests.
- 2015: 5,639 total arrests. Of those, 3,599 were whites, 2,004 were blacks. Blacks accounted for 35.53 percent of the arrests.
- 2016: 5,431 total arrests. Of those, 3,023 were whites, 2,164 were blacks. Blacks accounted for 39.84 percent of the arrests.
- 2017: 5,790 total arrests. Of those, 3,228 were whites, 2,522 were blacks. Blacks accounted for 43.21 percent of the arrests.
In June 2017, Levine and his city commissioners weren't celebrating their police-reform successes. They were bemoaning crime-gone-wild on the city's main drag, even though it apparently wasn't.
According to a story in the Miami New Times, "The way Miami Beach city commissioners tell it, Ocean Drive -- the most famous street in Miami -- has turned into a literal war zone. Drug dealers are roaming the streets, thieves are clubbing old ladies over the head, and you might lose your life if you hang out on the tourist-heavy street on the wrong night.
"The list of proposals to combat that alleged crime wave is long: Commissioner Michael Grieco essentially wants to ban black people from celebrating on the Beach during Memorial Day weekend; Mayor Philip Levine wants to roll back 'last call' for drinks on the street from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m.; and Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez has pitched giving cops 'back their bullets,' letting them work additional off-hours security detail, removing police body cameras, and ostensibly letting cops shoot more criminals dead."
Can this be the city Levine claims one year later he reformed?
"Another election for us to see South Florida's black community taken for granted," Carlianne Mahoney, who lives two blocks off Ocean Drive, told me Thursday. "Philip Levine talks like he cares about one of our biggest issues, racial profiling, but all he wants is our vote. That's what they all want."
Mahoney, a 36-year-old bank teller and mother of three, said she probably wouldn't be voting in the midterm elections. "Why should we engage with the candidates when they don't engage with us?"
It's time for candidate Levine to delete his police-reform talking points. They're an outrage to African-Americans and soon enough they'll be an embarrassment for his campaign.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith