Pin It
Woody Deant mugshot
The mugshot of Woody Deant, with bullet holes in the forehead and eyevia NBC Miami

Miami police use mugshots of black teens for target practice

Is it any surprise that people suspect the US police force is institutionally racist?

When you visit a shooting range, you probably don't expect to see a picture of your own sibling pinned up as target practice. But that's exactly what Sgt Valerie Deant spotted when she arrived at a weapons range in Miami, Florida for weapons training.

North Miami Beach police snipers had been using the range before Deant, a soldier, turned up. She immediately recognised a mugshot of her brother Woody, photographed 15 years ago after he was arrested in relation to illegal drag racing. One bullethole was in his forehead; the other was in his eye. All the other five photographs pinned up as targets were of young African-American men. 

"I was like why is my brother being used for target practice?" Deant said on NBC Miami. "They were all black males. There were like, gunshots there. I cried a couple of times."

North Miami Beach Police Chief J. Scott Dennis trotted out the "actually, we have a lot of black friends" defence by stating that the sniper team includes officers from minority groups. He claims that using photographs of real people is important for facial recognition drills.

"Our policies were not violated," Dennis said. "There is no discipline forthcoming from the individuals who were involved with this."

But it still begs the question: is it right to practise your aim on images of real people, all of whom are black? Even if all the mugshots were of white people, it isn't even standard practice to use real human images. Traditionally, police forces use dummies or targets for firearm training.

2014 was an incredibly turbulent year for relations between US police and the black community in America, sparking waves of protest that spread all over the country. In the light of needless deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, you'd think that police would be trying harder to stop their officers from taking aim at young black men. Stapling pictures of them to a wall and using them for training practise doesn't seem to be the best way to do it.