Thirty Years Later, A Father Passes Mayoral Advice To Son Amid Protests

Miami has seen civil unrest before, but as protests remain relatively peaceful, a mayor who's been there set an example for the one in charge now.

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The police violence fueling the most recent protests in South Florida is different from those that sparked destructive, sometimes deadly, reactions in the past, says a man who's been there.

Xavier Suarez was mayor in 1989 when a Miami police officer shot to death a motorcyclist, touching off an angry reaction in the historic African-American community of Overtown.

Now his son, Francis, presides over the city's response to protests against police killings, like the one in Minneapolis last week of George Floyd, whose death last week sparked nationwide protests.

One big difference, the elder Suarez said, is Floyd was killed 1,800 miles away from Miami.

In 1989, "there was a lot more hurt because it was so close to us," Suarez said of the death of the motorcyclist, Clement Lloyd, and his passenger. "Your neighbor's the person that got killed, not someone in another part of the country."

Another difference: when he was mayor, there was "more immediacy, in the sense it was spontaneous. The first day, we had absolutely no idea it was happening. It wasn't a planned protest."

Suarez won praise in 1989 for going into the affected community, talking to residents until dark.

Now, his son has his old job and some advice has been passed down.

"I always told him you have to show the flag, in naval terms. You have to have people-to-people contact, you have to touch and be touched, hopefully not to be touched too hard. You have to be out there and talk to the people. I don't think you see that in too many other cities in the United States, that the mayor goes out there."

The junior Suarez did just that Sunday, engaging on the sidelines after a news conference with protesters, giving his cell phone number to one, expressing his desire that Minnesota authorities charge more than just the one officer who faces a murder charge.

"If something's going to happen in my community, I got to be there," Xavier Suarez said, noting he even planned to spend the night in Overtown, until rocks and bottles started being thrown in his direction.

"I went without security," he recalled. "My security officer, who was with me, went in the opposite direction. I stayed perhaps a little too long."

He's now a Miami-Dade County commissioner running to be county mayor.

If he wins, he said he would work to create an independent civilian investigative panel like the one the City of Miami has to investigate police misconduct after the police department closes complaints, and recommend reforms to the police chief and administration.

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