City of Miami Beach: Seeing is not believing

By | June 8th, 2011 | 6 Comments
Cathy Vivarttas

Boynton Beach resident Cathy Vivarttas lived next door to Raymond Herisse, who was shot to death by police on Memorial Day morning. -- photo by Liam Crotty

You may have seen the video of police shooting Raymond Herisse in South Beach on Memorial Day morning (embedded after the jump). Captured by Narces Benoit and sold to CNN, the cell phone footage shows the controversial shooting and its aftermath, in which a police officer points a gun at Benoit as the 35-year-old car-stereo technician from West Palm Beach attempts to drive away. It’s a chaotic scene with police sirens blaring and Benoit and his companion screaming in fear just before the footage ends.

Despite the video, which has more than 200,000 views on YouTube, Miami Beach officials have challenged Benoit’s claim that the police held him at gunpoint and later tried to confiscate and destroy his cell phone, according to the Herald.

[A]n unsigned statement issued late Tuesday by a city spokeswoman took issue with Benoit’s statements. The statement said police stopped him not because he was filming but because he matched the description of a man seen fleeing the shooting scene, and that he ignored officers’ demands to stop. He was taken in for questioning as a witness, the statement said.

The statement also questioned Benoit’s account that an officer “smashed” his phone — the city e-mailed photos of the phone’s front and back showing only small cracks on the lower right front screen — and said Benoit didn’t turn over a copy of the video until he was served with a subpoena.

“We think the video speaks for itself,” Benoit’s lawyer, retained for a possible lawsuit and internal-affairs complaint, told the Herald.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, local photographer Liam Crotty took it upon himself to visit Herisse’s Boynton Beach neighborhood to get some background on the 22-year-old, who died in the shooting after allegedly hitting at least one police officer with his blue Hyundai on Collins Avenue.

“By now there’s been quite a lot of media coverage about the fatal police shooting of 22-year old Raymond Herisse on Memorial Day in Miami Beach,” Crotty wrote in a blog post about the visit. “But after six days of reporting, I noticed not one story had been done on just who Raymond was.”

Days after the shooting, Boynton Beach police identified Herisse as the gunman in a robbery at a BP gas station back in November. Crotty visited the BP and Herisse’s home, which is apparently in “a quiet, safe suburban residential neighborhood”. (This detail is worth noting since the shooting has triggered heated opposition to Urban Beach Week — an annual event that attracts hundreds of thousands of black, college-age visitors to Miami Beach. The fact that Herisse lived in a “a quiet, safe suburban residential neighborhood” challenges the widely prevailing characterization of him as an “urban thug”.)

During his visit, Crotty spoke briefly with Herisse’s mother and to her neighbor, Cathy Vivarttas. An excerpt:

[Cathy] explained that Raymond had moved in to the house back in 2005 with his younger and older sisters and mother who was raising all three children by herself. Cathy explained that Raymond’s mother is Haitian, speaks very little English but works two full time jobs to “keep a house over their heads” and is an excellent neighbor. Cathy added that right after moving into the house, she and her three children were out in the yard landscaping and gardening and keep it up very well. Yes, there’s even a white picket fence …

You can view photos from Crotty’s excursion and read the rest of the post at

Read the rest of this entry »

Parsing the Memorial Day shooting in South Beach

By | June 5th, 2011 | 12 Comments
Photo from Miami Beach anti-Urban Beach Week rally

On Friday, Miami Beach residents held an anti-Urban Beach Week rally in front of City Hall.

As more details have come out about the police shooting on Memorial Day in South Beach, the story has become infinitely more complicated. What we know for sure is that 12 police officers fired more than 100 rounds at a black 22-year-old from Boynton Beach named Raymond Herisse, who died on the scene. According to police, Herisse had been recklessly driving down Collins Avenue in his blue Hyundai and hit at least one cop. Police shot him dead in his vehicle and, in the process, may have shot a Tallahassee man named Cedrick Perkins in the chest. (There is no question that Perkins got shot — a bullet is still lodged in his chest. “May” refers to whether the police put it there. The shooting is under investigation.) In the aftermath of the Herisse shooting, many Miami Beach residents have called for the end of Urban Beach Week, an annual event that attracts more than 200,000 young, black tourists to the city every year for Memorial Day weekend.

Ok. That’s where we stand at 1:36 a.m. on June 5. It’s a lot to process and even after you do, there’s a lot to chew on. Here are three morsels I’m still gnawing at.

1. Urban = black

This leads off the list because, despite rhyming signs to the contrary, race is the crucial factor in the debate over Urban Beach Week (aka Black Beach Week). This is obvious to anyone who so much as skims the comments on the Herald’s various articles dealing with the shooting. Here’s one:

The great thing about America is that what is rightfully yours, is whatever you earned. Therefore, the Chinese, Hindus, Sikhs, and just about every other immigrant population have gained what is “rightfully theirs”. And blacks, alas languish in resentment of the slave mentality, still waiting for Whites to give them a sense of self value along with a handout. — CypressCreekAve

However ignorant (the Sikhs?), CypressCreekAve at least tackles the race component of this issue, which is more than I can say for Miami Beach Mayor Hatti Bower.

“[UBW] is the result of years of independent promotions on radio, the Internet, and other media, urging a largely young, urban crowd to come to Miami Beach for a fun party weekend,” she wrote in the Herald on Saturday (emphasis added).

I know race is a touchy subject — one most politicians avoid like skittish kittens — but WTF does “urban” mean in this context if not “black”? Merriam-Webster defines the word as “of, related to, characteristic of, or constituting a city”, but does anyone believe for a second Bower meant it that way? A commenter with the pseudonym FortyfiveAutomatic certainly doesn’t:

“Look Ms Bower, I know that these ‘I hate to see so many black people at one time’ people are putting the pressure on you, but don’t write crap like this that insults black people’s intelligence … ”

Bower deserves chastisement for resorting to such weak language when this situation requires strong leadership. If she can’t bring herself to utter the word “black”, can we depend on her to deal with something so volatile?

2. What took so long to find the gun?

The shooting takes place Monday at 4 a.m. Police do not report finding a gun in Herisse’s car until Wednesday night. They do not report where they found the gun — on the “floorboard behind driver’s seat,” according to David Smiley, the Herald reporter covering the story — until Saturday afternoon.

The delay here is odd since a lot of people immediately speculated that the police had fired more than 100 rounds at an unarmed black man, and this speculation reportedly worried the Head Honcho. In one of his articles, Smiley said Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega was “concerned about the publicity surrounding the shooting” and that he “called the gun’s discovery ‘great news.'” From the same article:

“It took police several days to find the weapon because it was out of sight, Noriega said. Investigators first had focused on processing the crime scenes and on talking to witnesses, he said.”

Police fire more than 100 rounds at a 22-year-old and then dilly-dally in producing the weapon that ostensibly justifies the barrage? Wouldn’t they want to preempt the proliferation of conspiracy theories by producing the gun immediately? Wouldn’t that be high on the to-do list?

One would think.

N.B. Police have yet to confirm that Herisse fired the gun they found. “Ballistics tests … could take weeks,” Smiley reported on June 2.

3. Police allegedly drew guns on witnesses and attempted to destroy evidence

Update: Scratch “allegedly”. A video of a police officer pointing a gun at a witness is in the process of going viral.

The same article linked to above reports that a 35-year-old car-stereo technician named Narces Benoit took video of the shooting with his cell phone and, as a consequence, got a police officer’s gun shoved in his face. An excerpt:

The video shows Benoit get into the car, where his girlfriend, Ericka Davis, sat in the driver’s seat. He raises his camera and an officer is seen appearing on the driver’s side with his gun drawn, pointed at them.

The video ends as more officers are heard yelling expletives, telling the couple to turn the video off and get out of the car.

“They put guns to our heads and threw us on the ground,” Davis said.

Benoit said a Miami Beach officer grabbed his cell phone, said “You want to be [expletive] Paparazzi?” and stomped on his phone before placing him in handcuffs and shoving the crunched phone in Benoit’s back pocket.

This is not a side story. I understand that the police officers were under a lot of pressure and I can sympathize with a certain degree of aggressive defensiveness on their part. But pulling a gun on an innocent witness because he has a definitive record of the FUBAR incident that just took place — a record that could possibly exonerate the cops from all wrongdoing as well as implicate them in an unwarranted killing — and destroying that record is unacceptable.

Actually, it’s criminal.

By the way, I should say “attempting to destroy that record,” since Benoit reportedly managed to hide his cell phone’s memory card in his mouth for the length of an entire recorded interview at police headquarters. He is now considering selling the video to a website, which is, yes, scummy but also a potential victory for transparency in what has become a very murky case.


So that’s what’ I’m mulling over roughly six days after the shooting. I’m sure new details will come out in the coming days, and equally sure they will do as much to obscure the story as clarify it. In the meantime, we’ll have to keep chewing the fat.

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Miami Beach residents rally against Urban Beach Week

By | June 4th, 2011 | No Comments

The quote below comes from Ocean Drive resident Randie Hofer, one of the few black attendees at Friday afternoon’s rally to end Urban Beach Week, an annual event that draws hundreds of thousands of black college-age tourists to Miami Beach. This years’s UBW ended with the police shooting and killing 22-year-old Boynton Beach resident Raymond Herisse on Memorial Day after Herisse allegedly drove Grand Theft Auto-style down Collins Avenue, endangering several police officers in the process. The incident has galvanized some Miami Beach residents to call for the end of Urban Beach Week. You can read more about the rally and the shooting story, which is growing more complicated by the day, in the Herald.

Randie Hofer

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Two shootings in South Beach Memorial Day morning

By | May 30th, 2011 | 5 Comments

The details are still coming out about two shootings in South Beach early Monday morning that reportedly left three police officers in the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, one person dead, and another four people hospitalized. A two-minute video, shot from several stories above Collins Avenue, shows at least five police officers bombard a stopped car with gunfire. One of the officers then shines a flashlight into the driver’s side window, presumably to check for signs of life. “O, they killed everyone,” says the man shooting the video. The driver of the car was killed and four bystanders injured in the shootout, which took place at 4 a.m. Monday morning, according to a Herald article. Police believe the shooting followed an altercation between the driver and a police officer.

Update: The name of the person killed in the first shooting was Raymond Herisse, according to Jim Defede of CBS4. Twelve police officers — four form Hialeah and eight from Miami Beach — fired more than 100 rounds in the shooting, killing Herisse, who was 22 years old, and possibly wounding four innocent bystanders. Police have yet to confirm that Herisse had a gun or fired any shots. It is also still unclear whether anyone else was in the car with Herisse, who allegedly endangered several police officers while recklessly driving down Collins Avenue immediately before the shooting.

Update: Police say they have found a weapon in Herisse’s car. Quoth the Herald: “It took police several days to find the weapon because it was out of sight, [Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos] Noriega said. Investigators first had focused on processing the crime scenes and on talking to witnesses, he said.”

Update (from a June 2 follow-up article): “A West Palm Beach couple who filmed Monday morning’s deadly officer-involved shooting on South Beach has accused officers of intimidation, destroying evidence and twisting the facts in the chaos surrounding the Memorial Day shootings – a charge that police officials say they know nothing about.

Update: Someone has posted a fairly decent quality and very troubling cell phone video of the shooting. At one point after the shooting, an officer points his gun at the person shooting the video. You can view it on YouTube.

Update (from a June 3 follow-up article): “A Tallahassee man says he ‘wants justice’ after police shot him in the chest during the Memorial Day shootout on South Beach. ‘The bullet is still inside my chest,’ Cedrick Perkins, 30, said Friday afternoon.
Perkins says he was lounging on a bench with some friends on the front porch of The Delores Hotel, 1420 Collins Ave., when he heard ‘multiple gunshots’ and saw a blue Hyundai pass him heading south. He says he saw police officers firing from across the street
Perkins said the officers were shooting even though there were crowds of people across from them on the street and in front of the hotel.”

Meanwhile, a South Carolina man charged with DUI in a second officer-involved shooting that morning says he is innocent.”

A second shooting took place on 14th Street and Washington Avenue. “The driver of a grey Mercedes drove into the sectioned-off area and accelerated toward a police officer,” according to the Herald. “She fired at him until he crashed and officers arrested him. No one was injured in the second shooting.”

The shootings took place during “Urban Beach Week”, an annual event marketed heavily to a young black audience. The Herald story has elicited more than 400 comments, many of them exposing Miami as a city rife with racial animus and distrust of law enforcement. A few examples:

“The violence that comes with Urban Beach Week, the stuff that no one wants to talk about in polite politically correct company, is becoming a cliche. I know I should wait until I get all the facts but cliches are rooted in repeated instances and I suspect the odds are the cops shot black men since the beach during Memorial Day has become a great ambling aimless parade of black hip hop culture. But I could be wrong and if so, I apologize in advance for drawing the wrong conclusion.” — Call me MR. Jaded!, 142 likes

“I don’t go to the beach on Memorial Day weekend because of the disproportionate attendance of aggressive men with a chip on their shoulders who think society owes them something. They say it’s discrimination but the same occurrences don’t happen when other events come to town. Art Festivals, Film Festivals, Art Basel, Fashion Week, White Party etc. It’s obvious Urban Beach Week will fizzle just like Spring Break for College Students did back in the 90s. It’s just not worth it because they don’t have money to begin with so they don’t tip well if at all, the crime skyrockets, and they trash the place. Au revoir Urban Beach Week and good riddance to bad rubbish.” — meteorite, 89 likes

“I bet decent areas would just love for the “Urban Blacks” to congregate somewhere else. All those damning the police, seem to ignore the criminality of the “Urban Blacks!” I wonder how violent the police have been in that area until the “Urban Blacks” showed up? What is the cause and what is the effect here?” — HMichaelH, 3 likes

“I agree that the necessity of this ridiculous “festival” needs to be reviewed as it does attract a certain element of thuggishness that we could all do without. However, I do not agree with many of the downright racist comments here, highlighting only that Miami is the opposite of a melting pot. You seem to think that it’s only black people responsible for these things, when many of these crimes are also committed by the other limited number of ethnic groups in Miami.” — Gill Man, 0 likes

“Is anyone surprised that something like this would happen this weekend?” — Richard Nixon 2012, 0 likes

Police have not confirmed the race of anyone involved in the shooting.

The president of Hispanic gay-rights group Unity Coalition Herb Sosa has also chimed in re “Urban Beach Week” with an open letter to Miami Beach mayor Matti Herrera Bower. An excerpt:

[The video] shows our city as nothing short of a warzone – Filthy streets, a drive by shooting, multiple cars crashed in the process, and total chaos on the streets. This is unacceptable and must be controlled before we totally lose our city, tourism & residents. It is not limited to Ocean Drive or Collins – there isn’t a residential street in South Beach not affected by tons of garbage, crime to our vehicles, excessive noise 24 hours a day, and simply a lack of respect for our community, citizens & property. THIS is the image the world see of our “American Riviera”.

When did perceived political or social correctness override the safety & well-being of a community? This is not a race, economic or ethnic issue, it is an issue of visitors who have a total lack of respect for our community, its property & citizens. I know hotel rooms are filled, but at what price and for how long?

Read the full letter on the Herald’s Gay South Florida blog.

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