Tonight: Protest at Palm Beach Sheriff's Office Over Excessive Use of Force

Alarmed at a recent rash of bloody encounters between Palm Beach County sheriff's deputies and members of local immigrant communities, immigrant right's groups are planning to demonstrate tonight at the sheriff's Lake Worth station.

See also: Palm Beach Deputies Caught on Video Beating Man

The 5 p.m. rally will be one of many coast-to-coast, a national day of protest against police brutality called by the October 22 Coalition, an alliance of left political and social justice groups.

Walking point on tomorrow's Lake Worth protest is the Rev. Frank O'Loughlin's Guatemala Maya Center, a nonprofit that advocates for that troubled land's ex-pat and refugee community.

The center made headlines last month when it filed a request with the Department of Justice for a federal investigation of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw's department. Citing a May incident in which a deputy with a history of citizen complaints has been accused of brutalizing a Lake Worth man who had called PBSO about an attempted break-in of his car -- see Palm Beach Post reporter John Lantigua's excellent account -- center attorney Jack Scarola wrote that:

The growing Hispanic segment of the Palm Beach County community and the Guatemalans among that group... can recount numerous similar examples of oppression with roots in the prevalent attitude of law enforcement that the Central American residents of Palm Beach County are alien invaders, barely tolerated, presumed guilty of some misconduct by virtue only of their brown skin and their foreign tongues. There is not a single uniformed officer drawn from the Guatemalan community to mitigate the "us-versus-them" mentality and to bridge the war zone boundaries.

Referencing two other cases of alleged police brutality earlier this year, Scarola decried:

The growing militarization of local law enforcement, in dress, equipment, and most importantly, in attitude... They do not know how they are supposed to do their job because they have no clear understanding of what their job is. Instead of working to "secure the willing cooperation of the public," the occupying troops dress for war and their leader publicly defends their compliance with the "rules of engagement."

( New Times has reached out to Bradshaw's office for comment but has received no response.)

Tomorrow's protesters are not taking a "Fuck the Police" approach. In an email to New Times, O'Loughlin said his group's objective is "safe, competent, culturally appropriate, inclusive community policing." As he explained:

A deputy who cannot understand what is said to him and cannot make himself understood, is too dangerous to be tolerated. Deputies who think of the workers as outsiders enter communities of families that very likely have parents born abroad who, as homeowners here for a quarter of a century, have raised their children in this county. It is the deputies who functionally are aliens. Without education in cultural anthropology or even the language of the community, they are stripped of the communication skills that are the primary tools of their office. In their alienage, all that remains to them is the use of force. The situation of mutual incomprehension is an invitation to violence and tragic outcomes.

The City of Lake Worth Police Department -- which merged with PBSO in October 2008, primarily as a cost-saving measure -- had for years a questionable record dealing with the city's immigrants. In 2007, the department entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice in which it agreed to a menu of measures to enhance communication with the local Hispanic, Haitian, and Mayan communities.

PBSO appears to have made some effort to build those bridges. It has instituted a "Smart Policing Initiative" and created an office of community liaison.

Talk is cheap, however. Those protesting tonight want to see the sheriff walk the walk, and face up to a federal investigation.

Details and contact information for the event can be found here.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact [email protected]

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Fire Ant