Miami protest organizer: “You literally have your knee on our necks. What do you expect?”

(Yasser Marte/SFMN)

(Click here for more images from Miami’s George Floyd protest.)

Hundreds of people marched through the streets of downtown Miami this past weekend to protest the police killing of George Floyd.

The action was organized by 33-year-old David Michael. He is director of the southeast chapter of Save The Kids From Incarceration, a nonprofit grassroots organization that deals mainly with the school-to-prison pipeline 

Michael said the protest was going well from 3 to 6 p.m. but turned violent after nightfall. He does not support the violence, and moving forward, he urges people to use their phones to record officers antagonizing protesters rather than to confront them.

“There is video of officers throwing tear gas into the crowd while the crowd chanted ‘I can’t breathe’ and people being on one knee before any of [the looting and rioting] began,” he says. “It’s on us not to be so quick to react emotionally … They want a response so they can enforce whatever they’re trying to enforce.”

Michael was concerned the message would be overshadowed by violence, and that the looting and rioting would become an excuse for disregarding the movement. 

“We have to be very mindful as a people what kind of narrative [media] are going to push against us, especially black and brown folks,” Michael said. “I understand the frustration as a black man. I understand the pain. But we must strategize.”

Michael said it’s up to protesters to understand that they are risking arrest or being tear-gassed. “Regardless of whether it’s peaceful or not, [the police] are still going to react the same way,” Michael said, referencing an incident that occurred on Sunday where a police officer shoved an already kneeling woman to the ground in Fort Lauderdale, as reported by Local 10 News.

“As a man with melanin in his skin that lives in this country, I’ve been dealing with this kind of stuff all my life,” he said. “At this point, I can only use my voice. . . to change the narrative.” 

Michael, a Brooklyn native who moved to Broward at age 15, has been working with Save The Kids for four years. He is also the president of the Green Haven Project, a two-acre urban garden in Overtown that gives the community, including the homeless, access to fresh produce and vegan meals.

Michael described Saturday’s protest as a single drop in the ocean, given that countless others were protesting simultaneously across the country. He said he believed in unity and strength in numbers. “Once we exercise our right to come together as a people, our voices are ten times louder. . . all we are doing is just amplifying that one voice that cannot speak because he is gone.”

Michael believes officers guilty of brutality need to be weeded out. He said protesters want to see prosecution of officers who abuse their power and use unnecessary force against black and brown citizens. 

“They’re supposed to protect and serve us against people that break the law,” he said. “So what happens when police become the criminals? Then who do the people have to turn to?”

Although protesting is one way to send a message, Michael believes more needs to be done in order to gain tangible, long-term solutions.

He emphasized that educating the public on local officials and policies is a crucial step towards change. He also encouraged joining and supporting local nonprofit organizations, or even starting an organization of one’s own.

“I understand people have lives. . . but for some this is life. I can’t leave my body as a black man. . . I’m living this.”

Michael called for continuing activism even after the protests have died down.

This is not a hobby for me. This is not a fad. This is a lifestyle. I encourage everybody. . . do something. Anything. We need more people to stand up and not be fearful anymore.”

Michael wanted to be clear that he was not being paid to protest.

He termed as false the narrative going around “that people are being paid to protest and to cause ruckus. . . to push some agenda.” It is genuine anger and frustration, he says.  

“What do you guys expect to happen when a nation of people is constantly being bombarded with violence, over and over and over again?” he asks. “Men, women and children are being oppressed…. You literally have your knee on our necks. What do you expect?’” 

Beatriz is a broadcast media major at Florida International University and is the managing editor for South Florida Media Network. She aspires to become a documentarian.