The legendary Miami Beach police chief Rocky Pomerance was asked in an interview with People magazine why he so passionately believed in the importance of police work. “Because,” he said, “we are the only social-service agency you can call on for help after 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.”
Characterizing the police as a social-service agency isn’t likely what comes to most minds nowadays, and certainly not among people of color. Burned in memory here in Asheville are photographs of Asheville police destroying a makeshift street clinic set up by local medical workers to assist protesters, an action so mindless that even the police chief apologized for it two days later. These images are creating an equally mindless battle cry of “Defund the Police” as if the root problem is one of municipal budget allocation.
This isn’t policing as Rocky Pomerance practiced it during one of the nation’s most turbulent periods of public unrest.
Courtesy of Miami Beach Police DepartmentMiami Beach Police Chief Rocky Pomerance became an international celebrity after his enlightened handling of massive protests during the 1972 presidential-nominating conventions. My thoughts of Chief Pomerance, don’t spring from nostalgia, but rather from his relevance to these current events. His approach to policing may suggest that the way forward for police departments in 2020 is to look backward at what happened in the summer of 1972 when a nation as polarized then as ours is now focused attention – and anger — on Miami Beach.
For the first time in the nation’s history – and likely the last — both the Democrats and the Republicans gathered just weeks apart in the same city to nominate their candidates for president. For the Democrats it was to be the almost monkish Democrat George McGovern, a prairie populist, and the incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon, a man as loathed by many then as our president is by many now. The nation was roiled by the Vietnam War as the death toll climbed to 50,000 with neither an end in sight nor a rationale for engagement. In addition, racial tension boiled beneath the surface as Nixon stoked white fears of integration to broaden his base, luring George Wallace’s segregationist backers to the Republican side.
Protesters of all stripes – veterans against the war, Marxists, hippies, the Black Panther Party, Jane Fonda and more — descended on the ocean-resort city known then mostly for its fading hotel strip, race tracks, hoodlum visitors and shabby boarding houses where elderly pensioners idled away their days on park benches or shuffle-board courts awaiting the early-bird special hour at the local delis. It fell to Rocky Pomerance to protect his citizens, along with the president of the United States, the convention attendees and the thousands of protesters intent on being heard and, if possible, aiming to disrupt the political gatherings. Lying heavily on Pomerance’s mind was the memory of what had happened four years before at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, the culmination of a year that had seen Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy murdered, and major cities engulfed in infernos of rioting and fire.READ MORE >