A Constant State of Rage

In Delray Beach, cops have a remarkable history of shooting black suspects — with impunity

Potts sports a scraggly curve of beard on his chin line, and he speaks rapidly and animatedly. He's seated at a picnic table just outside the entrance of the activity center at Pompey Park in northwest Delray, which is a hub for black social activity that includes a gym, tennis courts, and baseball diamonds. Cliques of preteens and teenagers banter with one another as they enter and exit on this weekday afternoon in September. The place is a flurry of commotion, from dance classes to aerobics.

The city spends less on programming in Pompey Park than it did in the late 1990s, Potts contends, and the inequity irks him. "Pompey Park is the biggest park in the city," he declares. "More people coming to our park than all the others combined. Why can't we get the budget to show that fact?"

The city's attention to the park, he claims, is sporadic. Earlier this year, the city replaced the gym floor, even though those who used the gym complained that the leaking roof was the actual problem. Sure enough, Potts says, the new floor was quickly ruined by the leaks.

William Albury, an elder at Jerrod's church, recalls Jerrod as a cheerful, helpful boy with a promising future.
Colby Katz
William Albury, an elder at Jerrod's church, recalls Jerrod as a cheerful, helpful boy with a promising future.
Delray Beach

Potts also complains about the closing of the Back Room on West Atlantic a few years ago after the city's redevelopment agency bought the property. The nightclub was the only real nightspot on the west side and a major gathering place for young black adults. The building remains standing and vacant.

City Hall is roughly nine blocks east of Pompey Park, located on property that was once largely black-owned. The mayor, a dark, stocky man with a round face that he describes as "made for radio," seems more than happy to talk with New Times about race relations in his city.

Perlman admits that there's mistrust toward city officials by many average black citizens. "We're still wrestling with a long history of strained relations that exist in this community, which is a microcosm for the rest of the country. This was a city that in the 1970s sold its golf course rather than integrating it. That's not all that long ago for some people. That's where the mistrust lies."

But at times when he speaks, he demonstrates the mindset that his critics decry most: that the city's race-relations problem is more a public-relations problem than anything else. Nowhere is this chasm of perception more glaring than in Perlman's defense of rebuilding the city's white neighborhoods first.

"The thinking was, this is easier to fix," he says. "If we get this rolling, we'll have the revenue, taxes, and money to go and do the harder stuff, which is west of Swinton. Now we have the millions of dollars it's going to take to rebuild and improve the housing stock and put sidewalks in and do drainage, everything you need to have a nice neighborhood.

"I think it was technically the right decision, but it was never explained to the west side what was going on and why."

The sanctuary of Delray's Daughter of Zion Seventh-day Adventist Church is awash in yellow on the Sunday afternoon of September 18. Dozens of people have donned canary-colored T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "No Justice, No Peace." This was Jerrod's church, and he had just joined its drum corps before he died.

This forum and "rally against injustice" had been initially planned for the days immediately following the grand jury's decision in August, but Hurricane Katrina blew in instead. Now, a few weeks later, the NAACP is spearheading a rally to keep the outcome of the Jerrod Miller case in the headlines. Jerrod smiles gently in an enlarged, window-sized photo perched on an easel in front of the pews holding roughly 150 people.

The gathering is small, however, compared to the swell of people who turned out at meetings during the weeks after Jerrod's death. Romaine Martin, the rally leader and head of the NAACP's South Palm Beach County branch, makes an oblique reference to the rift between the local NAACP and some of Delray's black leaders. "We don't know who's for us and who's against us — you better believe it!" she shouts from the podium.

Still, there's one overarching concern they all can agree on, and that's the police use of deadly force in their corner of South Florida. In fact, just nine days earlier, a Palm Springs cop had shot to death Marc Ariot, a black 18-year-old who'd accelerated his car toward the officer. "Nothing has changed," she pronounces.

Relations between Delray's police and its black residents have been the subject of public debate for years. Under Police Chief Charles Kilgore, who ran the department from 1979 to 1990, six black police officers sued the department, alleging they had not been promoted because of race. A federal jury ordered the city to pay the officers $760,000 in 1996.

Today, out of 143 active officers serving on the force, only 13 are black, with four more now in training.

Josh Smith, a retired county administrator who chaired the Black Community Task Force, says tensions have grown under the current police chief, Larry Schroeder, a 22-year veteran of the department who replaced Richard Overman four years ago. Smith contends the department was run better under Overman.

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