Circle of Brotherhood holds police training days after Miami reneges on $1 million in funds
Lyle Muhammad is disheartened.
In the span of a week, he watched the city of Miami renege on its $1 million promise to the Circle of Brotherhood, the nonprofit of which he serves as executive director. Then came the horrific video of Memphis police officers bludgeoning Tyre Nichols to death. Despite the swirl of emotions inside his head, he still managed to lead a police training session with at least two dozen Miami-Dade cadets Friday morning in Brownsville.
“What keeps us going — it’s not about the money, it’s not about making the police look good — is the services that our communities are being robbed of,” Muhammad said. The Circle of Brotherhood is an organization primarily comprised of Black men who are committed to crime prevention, economic empowerment and mentorship. “And if they don’t have the right individuals to stand and fight then our community will continue to be overrun by people who call themselves servants but they mean our community no good.”
Events like Friday’s training are part of why Miami Mayor Francis Suarez presented the Circle of Brotherhood with an oversized check for $1 million in October 2021. The Circle of Brotherhood has hosted community-led sessions for the last five years. Complete with engaging exercises and lectures from Circle of Brotherhood members, the training allows the neighborhood to talk openly and honestly with future police, expressing their concerns but also finding commonalities with one another. The seminar, which Muhammad called “the only training like this in the country,” has been deemed so successful that it has become mandatory for both Miami-Dade and the City of Miami police cadets.
“This is an important part of their journey,” said Troy Walker, Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent in charge of the Miami regional field office. “I think that when an officer, at this stage of his or her career, can be exposed to something like this — what I like to call ‘a human experience’ — I think it gives them different perspective.”
Friday’s session featured a rather unique slice of the community: middle and high school students from Center of Life Academy. As students and cadets looked on, Muhammad and others led a series of exercises, including one that required individuals to step forward if they had witnessed violence at home, suffered from depression and several other difficult questions.
“Of everything we do here, watching what people are going through — that’s how you learn to police a community,” said Charles Press, who heads the Chief Press Foundation, a charitable organization based on Key Biscayne.
Arguably the best moment that illustrated the importance of the training came during Press’ speech. A retired Key Biscayne Police Chief who’s spent more than four decades in law enforcement, Press posed a simple question to the group.
“How many cadets know who Arthur McDuffie was?” Press asked, referring to the Black insurance agent who Metro-Dade police fatally beat in December 1979.
The room went completely silent.
“How many kids know Arthur McDuffie?” Muhammad then asked.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Muhammed said before Press explained that the four officers’ acquittal of McDuffie’s murder led to three consecutive days of rioting that left 18 people dead and $100 million worth of property damage in Miami’s Black neighborhoods.
When asked if their outspoken stance against the city commission’s takeover of the majority-Black board of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust played a role in the funds being dispersed after more than a year, Muhammad attributed it to “politics.”
“We’re not going to let political will frustrate us,” Muhammad said. “The most upsetting thing is the services that the community stand not to get.”
Those services included expanding their public housing relocation program, a citywide wellness initiative to help people suffering from COVID-19 and increased efforts to reduce recidivism among juveniles. The money would have come from the $137 million federal package given to Miami through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which helped communities recover from the economic challenges associated with the pandemic.
Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, the one holdout who voted against dispersing the funds, did not respond to a request for comment. Commission chairwoman Christine King praised the Circle of Brotherhood yet reiterated that the measure was essentially out of her hands.
Circle of Brotherhood “has been an important organization for our community, especially in District Five,” King said via email. “The item required four-fifths consensus to pass and unfortunately, it was only three of us who voted in favor.”
As for Muhammad and the Circle of Brotherhood, the executive director said the group has no plans on rolling back their advocacy efforts, especially when it comes to police training.
“If we don’t do it, it’s not going to get done and the problem is going to be exacerbated,” Muhammad said.