‘It wasn’t tasteful.’ ‘Ill-timed.’ Commissioners on Miami’s Black History police car

Celebrating Black History Month with an African-themed Miami police car was “ill-timed,” the City Commission’s lone Black member said Friday, a week after Memphis released video footage of police beating a Black man to death in a traffic stop.

Christine King, who serves as chair of the five-seat commission, helped pull the cover off the squad car Thursday that a Black police officer group sponsored to celebrate Black History Month. It’s decorated with black fists, silhouettes of Africa and stripes of green, yellow and red.

“I heard the design took over a year, which shows this was a thoughtful process,” King, Miami’s only Black commissioner, said in a statement released by her office. “The intent is to honor and respect our Black police officers and their service. However, I understand that our country is in mourning and the unveiling is ill-timed.”

A spokesperson for King declined to clarify the statement. It appears to be a reference to the video of Black police officers in Memphis on Jan. 7 beating Tyre Nichols, who later died of his injuries. The video was released Jan. 27.

Miami Commission Chair Christine King.
Miami Commission Chair Christine King.

After Thursday’s unveiling by Mayor Francis Suarez, King and other city commissioners, the car drew national attention and mockery on social media for both using a squad car to celebrate Black history and for choosing an African theme instead of images from U.S. history.

The leader of an organization of Black police officers in Miami, Stanley Jean-Poix, embraced the design as a tribute to local African-American roots.

“It celebrates our African ancestry,” Jean-Poix, president of the Miami Community Police Benevolent Association, told WLRN. The union sponsored the themed car and promoted the unveiling as “a moment in time for us to celebrate our history in law enforcement.”

Miami’s Black History squad car did not sit well with King’s predecessor as commissioner for Miami’s District 5, which includes many of the city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods.

When he spoke at a Black History event in Miami on Friday, Miami-Dade Commissioner Keon Hardemon said the annual celebration can sometimes bring well-meaning tributes from people that end up being “just wrong.”

He includes the the city of Miami’s Black History squad car in that category.

“From my perspective, it wasn’t tasteful,” said Hardemon, who held King’s seat until 2020 and now represents the city on the Miami-Dade commission.

READ MORE: ‘This can’t be real’: Social media erupts after Miami cops unveil Black History Month car

During the county’s Black History Month kickoff at the Stephen P. Clark Center, Hardemon, now one of five Black county commissioners, said Black history tributes he’s encountered sometimes fail.

Keon Hardemon
Keon Hardemon

“During this time, people make efforts to show that they care about us,” he said. “They do things I do think they think we will find to be welcoming. Sometimes they’re just not. Sometimes the approach is wrong.”

In an interview afterward, Hardemon said Miami’s effort fell short by mixing symbolism with the Black history tribute.

“It probably would have been better just to say ‘Happy Black History Month,’ and not include the symbols,” he said. “The whole conversation that we have about Black history in this country is that Black history is American history.”