Grassroots movements aren't built by social media. Grassroots movements aren't created by news coverage or celebrity endorsements or the speeches of politicians. Grassroots movements are built by passion and commitment. There was plenty of both on display this weekend as determined members of the Justice for Sylas protest kicked off their demonstration in front of the Fort Lauderdale Florida police headquarters. Even after heavy rain prompted the police who surrounded the protest to leave their posts, the demonstrators stayed and used a nearby bus platform to shield their signs from the rain.
Somewhere between 10 and 15 demonstrators gathered directly in front of the City of Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Most who gathered at the protest yesterday were friends and family members of Amanda Mercer, whose dog Sylas was killed by a still-unidentified Fort Lauderdale police officer back in March. Journalists from at least a half dozen local news agencies were invited to the event and declined to attend - most simply discarding their invitations without reply. "It doesn't matter [how many people show up]," Mercer told a Puppycide Database Project volunteer at the scene of the demonstration. "We will be back here next year and every year after that until something changes."
Mercer works as a veterinary technician, and her dog Sylas was a docile Argentinian Dogo who was good with children and who donated blood for critically injured dogs at Mercer's clinic. There are no reports of Sylas ever having injured a human being.
On the day of Sylas' shooting, three police officers forced their way into Amanda Mercer's home looking for her brother, who was involved with a domestic dispute with his wife. Mercer's brother did not live at her home, but police suspected that he might of fled there despite a strained relationship. There was no search warrant; even so, police told Mercer's fiancee that he could not refuse to allow them to search the house. It is not clear if Mercer's brother was suspected of a felony charge at the time of the search, but even if he was there was no evidence that he was at the Mercer home and he was not observed fleeing there by police or witnesses.
According to the Mercers, the police were informed that a dog and an infant child were home at the time of the search. Mercer's fiancee was forced to wait outside the home during the search and was not allowed to secure the dog or his child before police entered. Police would later dispute that they were aware Mercer's 1 year old daughter was on the scene, a claim made hard to believe by the prevalence of rattlers, pacifiers and baby food containers that litter the home of any new parent. "The entire police report is filled with lies," Amanda Mercer told our volunteer at the scene of the protest. Both police and the Mercer family agree that a single police officer, known only as "Officer Ramos", opened fired on Sylas shortly after entering the house - and only a few feet away from the Mercer's infant daughter (who was, fortunately, not shot). Neither Ramos or any of the other officers were bitten by Sylas.
The Mercer family has filed a complaint alleging unnecessary use of force, and hopes that the Civilian Review Board might provide some form of vindication. However, the Civilian Review Board has no authority to discipline officers. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department's own internal investigation exonerated "Ramos" without any form of punishment and did not bother to communicate the results of their investigation to the Mercer family. Until the next opportunity presents itself to force the Fort Lauderdale Police Department to investigate an officer shooting that involved an infant in the line of fire and left a dog dead and a family devastated, the Mercers, their friends and supporters are committed to making their voices heard.
Toward the end of the day, a sudden thunderstorm left demonstrators soaked and shivering. Among those who stuck it out was a young girl who brought a small dog and a large sign with a message more chilling than the wind and rain: "It could be your pet next".