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MIAMI (AP) — The city of Miami on Wednesday suspended a Hispanic police captain who was strongly condemned after he publicly claimed he was black when fighting accusations that he has derided black people.
The Miami Dade Branch of the NAACP had called for Police Capt. Javier Ortiz's resignation earlier this week, saying it was deeply concerned by the comments Ortiz made at a city commission meeting last week. On Wednesday, Miami police spokesman Michael Vega said Ortiz had been relieved of duty pending an investigation. Vega did not specify the time frame or the basis of the investigation.
At the Friday meeting, members of Miami’s black police association voiced complaints about discrimination within the department, mentioning the captain by name.
Ortiz was given a chance to step to the podium and astonished officials, including black chairman Keon Hardemon, by saying he wasn't Hispanic, but black.
“I am a black male. Yes I am. And I am not Hispanic. I was born in this country," Ortiz said. “You don't know the makeup of my race or my ethnicity. You don't know anything about me."
Ortiz said he had some black ancestry in his family and cited the “one-drop rule” in justifying his identity. The Jim Crow-era classification, once used in some southern U.S. states, holds that someone is black or a person of color even if a single long-ago ancestor was black.
¨Let's not talk about the degree of blackness," Hardemon said at the meeting.
“Oh no, you are blacker than me. That's obvious,” Ortiz responded.
Ortiz has fervently defended police officers who have shot unarmed blacks on social media. He once referred to Tamir Rice as a “thug,” after the 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by a white police officer in 2014 as he played with a pellet gun outside a Cleveland recreation center.
The association on Friday presented documents that showed Ortiz had listed himself as a white Hispanic when he first applied to work in the police department. Later, when he took an exam to seek a promotion, he listed himself as black, The Miami Herald reported.
The assistant director of the city of Miami's civilian investigative panel, Rodney W. Jacobs Jr., wrote an opinion column for the Herald saying Ortiz should not be trusted to wear a badge from the police department.
“It is incumbent upon me and others to stand up and say that blackness is not for sale," Jacobs said. “Ortiz’s claim that he is a black man is disrespectful and intellectually irresponsible."