Sheriff Scott: No excuse for violent behavior
No matter what the situation, there is no excuse for those involved in the destruction of Baltimore and Ferguson following police incidents.
That’s what Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott told a packed house Wednesday as Tiger Bay hosted a luncheon at Harborside Convention Center about the recent happenings in those areas and whether Lee County is prepared in the event something like that happens locally.
Carol Green, president of Tiger Bay Club, said the group was formed four years ago to bring up issues to community needs to discuss, in this case the issue of rioting.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented uprising and because of that, we need to talk to our local leaders about if we’re prepared, what it means, and what’s changed in our country that has made this happen,” Green said.
Scott disagreed with comments made by President Obama in the aftermath of Cambridge and Trevon Martin and by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who said he wanted to retrain the city’s police force following the July 2014 death of Eric Garner. Garner died during a struggle with police in which he was put in a chokehold.
“He said he couldn’t breathe. If you can’t breathe, you can’t speak. He was a 400-pound cardiac arrest waiting to happen,” Scott said. “It happened when officer told him to stop doing what he was doing.”
In the aftermath of those incidents, basketball players, including Lebron James wore T-shirts that read “I Can’t Breathe,” while members of the St. Louis Rams and singer Beyonce held their arms up to say “don’t shoot” following the Ferguson riots.
“What I wanted was a sign that read ‘Pants up, don’t loot.’ Everybody picks up the mantra,” Scott said before showing the events of Baltimore, with people smashing windows in cars and destroying property. “People take to the streets seconds after things happen, it becomes an excuse to riot and loot. And even if it was the police’s fault, it doesn’t justify the reaction. It takes leaders to tone down the rhetoric.”
With that, Scott criticized Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for allowing the riots to continue by “giving them space” to destroy and other leaders and councilmen making police decisions without knowing what they’re doing.
In his own experiences, Scott recalled the “Occupy” movement of 2010 when people set up camp in Centennial Park for several weeks to protest the happenings in government.
Eventually, they were told to move their tents, which had created dead spots in the grass, and moved to the old courthouse.
Scott found the decision makers and told them to leave by 5 p.m., after which one of them responded that “she” told them they could stay the weekend.
“I’d rather get thrown out of office than let something like that occur,” Scott said. “These events in Baltimore and Ferguson, until somebody takes charge, they’ll assume they’re in charge.”
Scott said media is feeding the frenzy by giving people the excuse to do illegal things by encouraging negative remarks and inflammatory activity, encouraging the likes of Al Sharpton to have a platform to empower negative behavior.
Scott brought up a published article after a Lee County deputy who shot a Bonita Springs man several years ago in which the headline read “Questions arise after deputy shoots ‘good’ guy,” calling it “unnecessarily inflammatory and leading.”
“Media, leaders fanning the flames of sensationalism, controversy and unnecessary conclusions before things are resolved,” Scott said. “If the federal government is going to interfere in local law enforcement, we’re in trouble.”
So is his department ready in the event something similar happens here? Scott said absolutely.
“From the first sign of any unrest, it needs to be addressed. You don’t sit on your heels for three days or wait until the fires are lit,” Scott said. “You address insurrection as it starts. Otherwise, it builds and people feed on that.”
Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, a former Fort Myers police officer, said his department practiced such scenarios.
“We trained in case that happened. It can happen anywhere. As long as we have great leadership, if we have an uprising we address it before it gets out of control,” Pendergrass said.
Local dignitaries were present, including State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77), who said the sheriff raised good points.
“Some people are afraid to speak the truth and he’s never been afraid to, so I admire him for being strong and saying what needs to be said,” Eagle said.