Trump Quotes Redneck Miami Police Chief on Looting, Shooting
By John Dorschner
All day yesterday, I was wondering what new I could say about the horrific death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing riots. “Well, here we go again” was all I could think of. I’ve spent a ton of time studying the Miami riot of 1980 and the brutal police killing that led up to it, and it’s just like we have not learned a damn thing in 40 years.
I realized I was wrong when I saw Trump’s tweet at 12:53 Friday morning, warning rioters: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
That harkens back not 40 years — but 52 years, back to the days of a overwhelmingly white Miami police department, led by proud redneck Chief Walter Headley. When rioting broke out in Liberty City during the Republican National Convention in 1968, he said about his cops: “They know what to do. When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
He probably wasn’t the first to say that, but his infamous words got him a major obit in the New York Times.
By 1980, Headley was already an anachronym. That riot ended with 18 dead and $100 million in property damage, but at least cops didn’t add to the carnage by frequently shooting looters.
In my book on the police trial and the resulting riot, Verdict on Trial, I reported that Ken Harms, then Miami’s police chief, instructed his officers not to shoot and specifically decried Headley’s orders. “You are only allowed to use deadly force if your life or the life of another is in jeopardy,” he announced. “You don’t want a police officer to shoot a little 7-year-old in the back,” he explained to me.
Merrett Stierheim, county manager in 1980, put it this way: “There were as many women going into the stores as men — and kids!” Shooting looters? “You can’t do that. Wow — you talk about having a problem. Shooting because they’re looting a 7-Eleven? Wow. That give me heartburn just thinking about it.”
That was 40 years ago this month. We must hope that the police facing demonstrators throughout the country act sensibly and ignore the nation’s alleged commander in chief.
Verdict on Trial: The Inside Story of the Cop Case That Ignited Miami’s Deadliest Riot is available on Amazon.