The moment seemed to capture the super-heated emotions of a summer of national protest: A young Black teenager whacked a Miami police officer over the head with a skateboard during a chaotic demonstration.
The social-media jury, predictably, was outraged and divided. Either the kid was a thug who ought to be thrown behind bars or the cop, who also happened to be Black, was part of an oppressive force inflaming what had been a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration.
But five months later, maybe a lesson — and a little hope — has emerged from the violent clash between 17-year-old Michael Marshall and Miami Police Officer Raymon Washington. A few weeks ago, Washington agreed to meet Marshall in a conference room at the Miami-Dade Children’s Courthouse.
Marshall, a standout Northwestern High football player who had never before been in trouble, wept as he read a letter of apology, then peppered the officer with questions about police work. Washington, at 27 just a decade older, shared that he had suffered a major concussion in the attack, only the latest in over a dozen dating back to his own days of playing football.
They talked. They listened. They found some common ground. And against the odds, Washington and Marshall have since formed a friendship and bond, the officer now a mentor to the kid that struck him.
Today, they text frequently about football, family and life. Washington recently visited Marshall’s house to meet his family. On a recent Friday night, Washington even sat in the stands with Marshall’s family to watch Northwestern beat its rival, Central High.
“When he saw I was there, the smile on his face — I knew I’d made the right decision,” Washington said.
Marshall, a senior who graduates next spring, notched five tackles and two sacks.
“We won. I played great,” Marshall said. “I played amazing. He was so proud of me.”
Before his arrest, Michael Marshall had never been to a protest of any kind and had no real interactions with police officers.
He grew up in Miami Gardens, the youngest child of a single mom, Josephine Marshall, a retired nursing assistant. He also has an older sister, Rachel Marshall, and a 4-year-old nephew. Admittedly, Marshall grew up a bit sheltered, preferring skateboarding and soccer to football, at least initially.
But at 6-foot-4, nearly 300 pounds, his size gave him an edge in football as a two-way lineman and sometimes tight end, even if off the field he was far from a mauler. “Mostly, everybody sees me as a big teddy bear,” Marshall said.
Like many teenagers, social media is a huge influence on Marshall. After the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, he began to learn about other victims championed by the Black Lives Matter movement, names like Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice.
Throughout the summer, as protests over police brutality erupted across the country, rallies were staged daily across South Florida. Compared to some other U.S. cities, most of Miami’s protests were relatively calm as police avoided heavy handed shows of force.
The evening of June 10 would one of the few times that Miami police clashed with protesters. Marshall didn’t know anyone at the protest that began in front of Bayside Marketplace but he felt the need to be there. He arrived alone, his mother giving him a ride to downtown Miami.
“It was important to me as a young Black man to go out there and stand with my people,” he said. “It was important to represent something way bigger than me.”
But the day’s protests were marred, Miami police said, when some people began vandalizing statutes of Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de León. As a melee broke out on the streets , a police “response platoon” rushed to Bayside.
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SOURCE: Miami Herald, David Ovalle