The actions of a white man who brandished a weapon in front of young Black boys protesting gentrification in the upscale Miami neighborhood of Brickell has set off both activism and mixed emotions about the “Bikes Up, Guns Down” movement.
At a Tuesday evening press conference at Liberty Square called by Dwight C. Wells, the founder of the Bikes up, Guns Down ride out, 18-year-old, Diante Joseph, said he was the first person to be accosted by gun-toting Mark A. Bartlett of Hollywood Beach. Joseph is one of about 40 youth who was part of the protest in Brickell.
Originated as a way to protest racial injustice, the “Bikes up, Guns Down,” ride out has become synonymous with the traditional Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration to the excitement of some, and to the consternation of law enforcement and others.
The youth, one as young as 11 years old, were reportedly protesting the redevelopment of Liberty Square Housing Projects, which is undergoing a more than $300-million demolition and reconstruction program.
Wells is calling on the Miami-Dade state attorney to up the charges against Bartlett to include a violation of the hate crime statute. His voice is not alone.
Starex Smith, an activist who owns The Hungry Black Man, a food platform and blog, wrote a letter to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle Monday demanding that Bartlett be charged with “an appropriate hate charge to reflect the dangerous environment he created for our children.”
“Those kids were there on bicycles protesting gentrification,” Smith said.
He said that Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is the most-sacred day in the Black community, next to Juneteenth. Smith said the gun-menacing and name-calling incident, which was captured on video, was “extremely traumatic.”
In response to the Brickell district incident, Fernandez Rundle said, “I am outraged at the reported acts depicted in the videos taken during this incident. I have assigned my Chief of our Hate Crimes Unit to immediately investigate and handle this case.”
She does’t say whether she will call for a hate crime charge.
“I spoke with City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Chief of Police Jorge Colina this morning [Jan. 22] and my office is working closely with City of Miami Police on this matter, said Fernandez Rundle. “I am committed to filing the appropriate charges and to vigorously prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”
Bartlett was arrested after walking toward the boys with a gun in hand and calling the boys “niggers.” The video of the incident went viral.
According to the arrest report, when the Miami police stopped Bartlett’s vehicle, they found “a black Springfield Armory XD9, which was located in the right front passenger rear pouch loaded, without a holster, and readily accessible to the driver.”
Bartlett, who does not have a license to carry, told police that he didn’t know he needed a concealed carry permit for the gun. Smith was shocked to learn that Bartlett did not have a firearm's license and to hear that Bartlett defended his actions, by saying he did not point the gun at anyone.
“The gun is not pointed to the ground; it was not in a holster. So what was his intent?” asks Smith. “He was in the process of doing a crime, and engaging in hate speech at the same time. There is no reason not to charge him with a hate crime.”
Bartlett was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and could face up to five years in jail, up to five years of probation of a fine of $5,000 according to Florida’s criminal statutes.Bartlett had a broad smile in the mugshot released by the Miami Police.
Wells, founder of the “Bikes up, Guns down” celebration, defended the actions of the young protestors and said his movement plans to find a location to hold the event in the future.
“We need to put it together legitimately. We need to get it organized. That’s the plan,” said Wells. “It is a force to be reckoned with, when you are standing for something positive. The thing about it is that we have to cease the fighting.”
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina believes the vast majority of the community is not pleased with the vast number of motorcycles, ATVs and bikes surrounding the Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities.
The Miami-Dade Police Department released a list of arrests and police actions from Friday, January 18, 2019 through Monday, January 21, 2019 stating there were nine felony arrests, three misdemeanor arrests, two traffic arrests, four firearms seized, one car impounded, 33 dirt bikes and All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) Impounded, 14 hazardous moving violations issued and three non-hazardous moving violations issued.
“A lot of those people are not licensed. They know those bikes do not belong on the streets. Some of them[ the riders] are armed. Some of them are actually wanted,” said Colina.
But wanted or not, Wells noted that it is against Florida law for police to “chase” people on motorcycles and ATVs.
“The police can pursue them, but not chase them,” said Wells.It is not entirely clear if the large number of motorcyclists are coming into Miami or local riders.
“I am not against the motorcycles,” said chef and entrepreneur Ryan Milhomme. “Yes, it’s out of control, but if we could fix it, it would be alright.”
Milhomme owns two motorcycles and is a member of a bike club called the Street Burners.“We are more of an older club,” said Milhomme. “No young people. The young people are causing all this trouble.”Milhomme owns Mr. Doughnutburger and was selling his unique combination of sweet, salty and savory burgers at the annual parade on 54th Street. He said the idea of topping a burger with bacon and putting it between a glaze donuts came to life in his mother’s kitchen one day.
“I would rather bikes up than for them to be shooting. So I am for it and not for,” said Milhomme.
Miami Times staff writer Felipe Rivas contributed to this report.