For Some Officers, Black Faces Are Just Target Practice. Literally.
Officers at Florida's North Miami Beach Police station have an interesting way of practicing their shooting: they use mug shots as targets. According to the North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis, this is a normal and widely used practice. This may be true, however does it matter that all six of the mug shots that were riddled with bullet holes were black males?
Sergeant Valerie Deant seemed to think so. One Saturday last month, she, along with the Florida Army National Guard’s 13th Army Band, arrived to the shooting range in Medley for their annual weapons qualifications training. When they arrived, right after the North Miami Beach police, they were shocked to discover the remains of the targets, young black males in their late teens and early 20s. Deant was even more flabbergasted when she recognized one of the mug shots, her 18-year-old brother, Woody Deant. Woody was arrested in 2000 for connection to a drag race that resulted in the death of two people. Woody is now a father and husband with a career and doesn’t understand why his youthful self warrants a bull’s eye.
“Why is my brother being used for target practice?” Deant asked. Devastated, she immediately called her brother, who was also in shock.
“The picture actually has bullet holes,” Woody said. “One in my forehead and one in my eye. I was speechless.”
Dennis says this is a normal practice, but NBC 6 investigators reached out to sources at federal and state law enforcement agencies and five local police departments with SWAT and sniper teams, who all say they use “commercially produced targets, not photos of human beings.” Dennis stands by his statement, saying it helps with facial recognition drills and has nothing to do with racial profiling.
“The use of those targets doesn’t seem correct,” said Alex Vasquez, a retired FBI agent. “The police have different options for targets. I think the police have to be extra careful and sensitive to some issues that might be raised.” Especially in a time where tensions are high between the black community and law enforcement, this seems to be a sticky situation.
“Automatically in his [police officer] mind he’s going to think target, target, target.” Woody said.
“Our policies were not violated,” Dennis said. “There is no discipline forthcoming from the individuals who were involved with this.” The Chief says his officers will not use any booking photos from suspects they have arrested and he’ll direct his officers to remove the targets after they use the shooting range. However the question still stands: why were they up and in use in the first place?