15 Years…

Jerrod Miller

Fifteen years is a long time.

Fifteen years is the blink of an eye.

Fifteen years ago this month, Jerrod Miller lost his life at the age of 15 outside a school dance at the Delray Full Service Center.

Just like my daughter, Jerrod would be 30 years old today if not for a bullet fired on a crisp February night by a rookie Delray police officer.

Jerrod Miller died exactly 7 years to the day before Trayvon Martin, 17, lost his life after an encounter with a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.

People remember Trayvon. I’m afraid that Jerrod might be fading from memory in the consciousness of the larger Delray Beach community.

Oh, I’m sure his friends, family, neighbors, congregants at his church and his teachers still grieve his loss as I do. But the lessons we were supposed to learn, the strides we were supposed to make are at risk on this somber anniversary of a tragedy which also happens to dovetail with Black History Month.

Delray like so much of America wrestles with race. We have a fraught history in this community. We have a dividing line at Swinton. We are diverse but segregated at the same time. Sometimes it makes for a combustible mix.

In a little more than a month, we will head to the polls to choose from among a slew of candidates for two city commission seats. If we are Democrats, we will also vote for a challenger to take on President Trump.

Ironically, I was at Mar A Lago, the night Jerrod Miller was shot while driving his uncle’s Cadillac in our southwest neighborhood, a place now known as The Set. I saw the future president that night as he whisked by and never dreamed he would be president. I was not at his gold leafed resort for a political function that night but rather a charitable event. My phone would ring in the early morning hours with the news of the fatal shooting. I knew immediately that life would not be the same.

When police shootings occur, a dynamic occurs—a tornado of media, lawyers, union reps, police investigators, prosecutors, media, activists, hate mail, threats, anger, anxiety and crushing sadness.

Absolute crushing sadness.

As a mayor, you become isolated—from your colleagues on the commission and from everyone really. It’s a lonely place and there is no playbook to reference.

I think of that lonely place whenever I hear of bad things happening. I know there’s hurting families, anxious policymakers and sad police officers in whatever community bears the byline of tragedy.

For 15 years now, I have had recurring dreams about a young man I never knew in life. I saw him only once—in a casket, at his funeral—at the 7th Day Adventist Church in our northwest neighborhood. I met and admired his pastor. I knew his father—not the biological opportunist who showed up after the shooting–but the man who Jerrod knew as his dad.  And I met his grandmother who sat quietly with us in a room at Old School Square during our race relations workshops.

Over the years, I have met his friends, a cousin and his twin brother Sherrod, a young man deeply haunted by the loss of his brother. We had a tearful meeting a few years back along with several police officers who were on the scene that fateful evening. We tried to reach Sherrod. I think he wanted to be reached. But we failed….he failed too. For now anyway…maybe someday.

Sometimes that’s what happens, but it is so very hard to accept.

In a month or so we will choose elected officials and who we choose matters. Yes these people will be tasked with the usual—how to manage growth, how to keep the millage rate from spiking and how to keep up with the needs and controversies of a bustling city/village.

But they might also find themselves dealing with something wholly unexpected—an act of violence, a natural disaster or in the case of Mayor Dave Schmidt who I sat next to for three years on the dais, the presence of terrorists in little old Delray. Stuff happens, as they say.

Me…I’m concerned about race relations in our community. I have been for a long time now.

There are real issues out there: equity issues, housing issues, the need for jobs and opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

There are social issues too—abuse and neglect, poverty and addiction that touch every part of this city.

And there are political issues too—feuds and splits wrapped up in race that have stoked anger, resentment and sadness.

When you ignore a toxic brew of emotions they tend not to dissipate but to fester. That’s dangerous.

Powering ahead does not solve anything—there will be a reckoning and often times reckonings are ugly.

Here’s hoping that whoever is elected or re-elected in March that they stop and consider the important work of community building and improved race relations. We might not be able to heal our divided nation but we can make a difference right here in our community. We can set an example.

If we don’t try we will continue to fray at the seams—ever so slowly…until one day we break.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Mike Sneiderman says:

    As usual, well put, pertinent and poignant!

  2. David Reeves says:

    Well done, Jeff.

  3. Andrea Knibb says:

    Jeff, So appreciate your always thoughtful take on issues that really matter, in and well beyond Delray.

  4. Elizabeth Merwin Tait says:

    Thanks so much for this. I never forgot Jerrod. He was my son’s classmate and friend. I would come in to the class and help out once a week. This is was 5th grade and Jerrod was one of the students I helped with assignments. A special kid.This was such a tragedy. I can tell you that after 15 years I still think of Jerrod often.

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks so much for sharing Elizabeth.
      I too think of him often. My daughter was his age. And I just couldn’t imagine losing her. The loss hit all of us so hard. Wishing you well, Jeff.

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