After ignoring invitations from Black Lives Matter and the Broward Dream Defenders for three weeks, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel made a last-minute decision to attend the People’s Debate for Broward County Sheriff at the African-American Research Library last night. He may be regretting it.
Unlike most community debates, this one actually forced each participant to answer pointed, timely questions. For instance: "Did you watch the videos of the shootings of Alton Sterling and
Israel avoided giving a yes or no answer to that one. Instead, he trotted out what’s become one of his standard nonresponses — that neither of the shootings could have happened in Broward County.
“We would have known that individual,” he said. “We would have said, ‘Hey, what’s up.’ You can’t police neighborhoods when you’re afraid of people in those neighborhoods.”
That last line got applause, but his argument that there couldn’t be a deadly police shooting in Broward County was challenged later on when a man from the audience asked about the death of Jermaine McBean, whom he described as being “murdered in cold blood.”
“It was not a killing in cold blood,” Israel interrupted. “I’m offended to hear you say that. He had a rifle.”
“He had an air rifle,” several audience members shouted amid the boos.
The clear crowd favorite was Willie Jones, who is one of the rare individuals to spend a career in law enforcement and still retain the ability to speak plainly. Jones, the founder of the Fort Lauderdale Black Police Officer’s Association, pointed out the lack of diversity within the BSO’s ranks and argued that police need to work to regain trust in minority communities. “I truly believe the police should not be policing
Meanwhile, the other two candidates were somewhat lackluster. Santiago Vazquez, Jr., a former BSO sergeant who is running as a Republican, admitted he was nervous. “I’ve never done this before,” he said, putting on his glasses, taking them off, then putting them back on again. He lit up, though, when asked under what circumstances he would consider the use of force to be acceptable. “I will tell you, I don’t agree with nobody putting their hands on me,” he answered vehemently. A white woman aggressively chewing gum in the front row whispered, “Didn’t he beat someone up once?” (Actually, he shot a teenager in the chest.)
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James Fondo, who spent 30 years at the BSO back in the good old days of payoffs and Ponzi schemes, gave the impression that he’ll say whatever it takes to get elected. Without much conviction, he echoed several of the promises Jones had made: diversifying the police force, getting cops out of their cars and onto the street, and setting up a community review board. “Some of you might remember when I was the chief here in the central district back in 2007,” he said. No one in the audience indicated that they did, in fact, remember.
When the moderators announced that they would begin taking audience questions, practically half the people in the auditorium jumped up and got in line. Many of them, it turned out, wanted to dispute Israel’s statement that any complaints about the BSO would be investigated by internal affairs.
“I’m still waiting for them to call me back,” Hasina Roach, a family therapist from Lauderdale Lakes, said. “I got a letter in the mail saying they couldn’t get to me. I don’t understand how that’s an issue.”
Not long afterward, Israel decided it was time to leave.