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Saturday, December 10, 2016

You want to know the worst part?

It isn’t the incident where a police officer stopped a man at the 207 Quickstop convenience store and threw his purchases — cans of Red Bull — to the sidewalk.

It isn’t the incident where an officer stopped a woman outside that Miami Gardens store, pawed through her purse, then emptied the contents onto the ground and kicked at them.

It isn’t the dozens of times Earl Sampson — never convicted of anything more serious than possession of marijuana — has been arrested for trespassing while working as a clerk at the selfsame store.

It isn’t even that many of these crimes against conscience and Constitution were recorded on video.

No, the worst part is that police knew they were being recorded — and didn’t care. In fact, writes Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, “They relished it, taunting the store’s owner by waving open beer cans and cups, taken from customers, directly in front of the cameras.” That owner, Alex Saleh, installed the 15 cameras last year, not to protect himself from robbers — he says he’s never been robbed — but to protect himself and his customers in this working-class, predominantly black South Florida enclave, from repeated police harassment.

The incidents detailed at the top, by the way, are but the tip of the garbage barge. To tell the full story of illegal searches, racial slurs, profiling, intimidation and threats Saleh, his employees and his customers say they have endured under the rubric of “zero tolerance” policing would require more space than is available here. Saleh, a Venezuelan immigrant of Palestinian heritage, and a group of his employees and customers recently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city.

For what it’s worth, the police chief and mayor of this town are both black. One wishes that made more of a difference. But the behaviors alleged here spring from attitudes and perceptions that are structural, an abiding belief that you need not observe as many niceties in policing certain people in certain neighborhoods, don’t have to be as punctilious about legal rights and simple respect because really, who cares? As quiet as it’s kept, black people are no more impervious to being co-opted by that belief system than anyone else. We all have jobs to do. We all have to put food on the table.