Just after 4 p.m. Thursday, a woman stood a few feet away from several Miami Police Department patrol cars with her cellphone camera recording. After a few seconds, an officer entered the frame, escorting a handcuffed young black man to the back of a police car.
Suddenly, the officer put his head inside the car door and appeared to punch the suspect.
“Oh!” a woman exclaimed on the recording, reacting to what was unfolding before her. The woman, who the Associated Press identified as Shenitria Blocker, moved closer, and the officer climbed into the back seat of the car. Moments later, the camera shook and the video ended.
“That was the officer trying to grab my phone,” Blocker later told ABC affiliate WPLG. “He snatched my arm, so I snatched back.”
Police told her to delete the video or she would be arrested, said Blocker, who refused to have her face shown on the ABC station’s camera.
She didn’t delete the video, but instead a friend, Marilyn Smith, posted it online, where it quickly went viral and prompted a police investigation.
“The cop told him he didn’t have to tell him why he was being arrested, and the officer jumped in the car, got on him and hit the man a couple of times,” Blocker told the AP.
The officer who appears in the video has been relieved of his duties, according to Miami police, and his gun and badge have been taken away while the investigation is pending.
But the Miami Fraternal Order of Police is focused on an entirely different issue.
In a statement, the police union said “social media has placed a very negative tone on law enforcement nationwide” and that the officer in question was “protecting our community.”
The remainder of the union’s statement focused on criticizing Smith, the woman who at the time they believed recorded the video. It highlighted screenshots of Smith’s Facebook page and accused her of posting photos of herself with men who have handguns.
“It seems that no one cares to address this,” Lt. Javier Ortiz, the union’s president, said in the statement. “Social media has focused so much on #blacklifematters/alllifematters campaigns, yet nobody targets the root of the problem our community faces today.”
The man arrested in the video has been released from custody, WPLG reported. “The video will have to speak for itself,” the man told the station.
Police have not said what he was charged with.
They also haven’t identified the officer.
“We have seen the video, and we have launched a full Internal Affairs investigation into the matter,” Miami Police Maj. Delrish Moss told the Maimi Herald. “We take that responsibility very seriously. The officer involved in the incident will be relieved of duty as we investigate.”
Ortiz, the union president, said that “if the police officer has done something not within policy, it must be corrected,” but added that “there is a much more serious message by this video poster.”
“Our community has accepted behavior that motivates violence in our younger generation. It’s time for the community to take a stand against this reckless behavior and stop the violence,” he continued. “As the saying goes: It takes a village to raise a child. Guns don’t belong in the hands of children.”
Video recordings by bystanders have been at the center of several cases in which officers have been accused of using excessive force in their interactions with the public — black men in particular.
A New York police officer was recorded using a chokehold to arrest Eric Garner, a black man from Staten Island, who died. That officer was not charged with Garner’s death.
But the man who recorded the video, Ramsey Orta, has said that since then, he has been harassed by police.
And in South Carolina, a North Charleston police officer was recorded shooting a fleeing black man in the back. That officer, Michael Slager, was charged with murder in the killing of Walter Scott.
This is not the first time Ortiz has delved into the issue of recordings involving police officers. Last year, after Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa told a local television station that he was surprised that the officer in the Garner case had not been indicted, Ortiz released a statement detailing the reasons why Garner should not have resisted arrest.
“Chief Orosa’s statement that he believes that New York police officers will most likely be indicted at the federal level has absolutely no basis,” Ortiz wrote in a letter to the station. “It might sound good for the audience he may be trying to impress, but it is absolutely not true. ”
Recording police encounters with citizens is perfectly legal, and an officer can’t force a person to delete the video.
In this case, Blocker’s video was viewed more than 80,000 times within hours of it going online, according to the AP. It has since been removed from Facebook.
This post has been updated to clarify that Marilyn Smith posted the video online on behalf of Shenitria Blocker, who was identified by the AP as the person who recorded the video.