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MIAMI (AP) — Prosecutors began taking sworn statements Thursday from a group of black Florida teenagers as they weigh possible hate crime charges against an armed white man who confronted the young people with apparent racial hostility during a housing inequality protest on Martin Luther King Day.

Several of the teenagers met for more than two hours with prosecutors about the incident involving Mark Bartlett, 51, and his girlfriend on a downtown Miami street. The group riding bicycles was blocking traffic to draw attention to their potential loss of affordable housing due to redevelopment in the impoverished Liberty City neighborhood.

Cellphone videos show Bartlett walking up to the group that was arguing loudly with his girlfriend. He had a handgun at his side and was yelling racial slurs, although he never pointed the weapon at anyone, according to an arrest report. Bartlett is charged so far with illegally carrying a concealed weapon, which is a felony.

“We know what we saw in the video, but it goes beyond that,” said Don Horn, chief assistant Miami-Dade County state attorney. “We’re going to do everything we can to see that justice is done in this case.”

Bartlett attorneys Sidney Fleischman and Walter Reynoso issued a statement Thursday saying their client apologizes for using offensive language but denies committing any crime, saying his aim was to protect his girlfriend.

“That language is inexcusable. Mark is not a racist and his true character is not defined by the use of this offensive language on that day,” the statement says. “Mark emphatically maintains his innocence.”

The protest was timed on the King holiday not only to link it to the slain civil rights leader but also to take advantage of media attention to Miami’s annual “Wheels Up, Guns Down” event, said their attorneys. This involves mostly African-American young men on dirt motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles riding at high speed in and out of traffic, popping wheelies and riding while standing on the seats.

“They wanted to use that platform to get their message out,” Merritt said. “We believe this crime was a hate-based crime, that the only reason for targeting these individuals was race-based.”

Police have tried repeatedly to discourage the riders, citing the danger they pose to themselves and others, and every year dozens of people are arrested and many vehicles seized. The bicyclists involved in the confrontation were not directly affiliated with it, although they called their protest “Bikes Up, Guns Down.”

On the cellphone videos, a woman identified as Bartlett’s girlfriend, Dana Scalione, is shown arguing with the teenage cyclists about blocking the street in the upscale Brickell neighborhood and complaining she had to pick up children. At one point, she calls them “thugs” after claiming one of them on a bike rode over her foot.

Then Bartlett enters the picture with his handgun at his side, calling the group “losers” and using harsh racial epithets. Police were called and Bartlett was arrested, asking officers “why am I being arrested when those kids are free to ride around? I did pull out my gun. But I never pointed it at them,” according to an arrest report.

Under Florida’s hate crime law, Bartlett could face much more serious charges such as aggravated assault.

Another attorney for the teenagers, Marwan Porter, said a civil lawsuit will also be filed against the couple. The teenagers who attended the news conference declined to speak to reporters.

“They are still trying to process what happened,” Porter said. “It was very traumatic for them.”

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14 thoughts on “Prosecutors Meet With Florida Teens Over Possible Hate Crime

  1. Passing Through on said:

    My last month GovCheck was for 1100 dollars… All i did was simply spread my nasty ass hootch for random baby daddy seed from the comfort of my Secrion 8 home for 3-4 hours/week
    Try it yourself @ BabyMama.com..

  2. My last month GovCheck was for 1100 dollars… All i did was simply spread my nasty ass hootch for random baby daddy seed from the comfort of my Secrion 8 home for 3-4 hours/week
    Try it yourself @ BabyMama.com

  3. Why do you black people thrive on being a nuisance and burden on everyone else? That mother was trying to get home to her children but has to encounter a bunch of low IQ childish militant black animals blocking the road so nobody could get by. But in your stupid retarded minds that of course makes you the victim. In all reality you dummies deserve all that happens to you. You are your own worst enemy, not evil white people.

  4. What happened to ‘White Flight to the Burbs’!! Whites have been slowly moving back into urban areas for at least about a decade now. One of the main reasons they are coming back into urban areas of cities is because they are tired of the loooong commutes. But it’s soooo unfair to people who have lived in certain areas all of their lives because what happens is rent, and home owner prices go straight through the roof , and often price long term residents out of areas. Harlem is a prime example, and word is it’s happening in most major cities.

  5. Christianforreal on said:

    While I disagree with how AA conveys it, I do have to agree with the principle. The people. all the protesters, should not be allowed to impede on others. Yes, they need to protest where people are going to be so that people will know what’s going on and help where they affirm, but they should not be forced to listen or watch because someone blocks their path. That’s the same thing as standing in front of the door and not allowing people to enter or exit until they listen to your spiel. However, in this case these two should be arrested and held accountable for the dispicable actions

  6. Robin Andrews-Martin on said:

    Just like “other” organizations who depict hatred messages openly, these young men had a right to voice their opinions as well without any violence.

    • So true. Just imagine a mob of Black people taking over a town, and streets with torches. Blocking an entrance has no comparisons. We need to stop acting like crabs in buckets. I’ve got mine, you get yours, but don’t expect me to help you!

  7. ….saying something, whether derogatory or not, is one thing – doing so while openly possessing a weapon is something totally different. He clearly wanted to intimidate them, the fu##ing coward that he is. Each and every charge that can be held against him, I hope happens. Impede your lifestyle – how about not try to intimidate people. If he felt so put out of place then call the police. He thought he could get away with it and failed.

    • Yep. Impede on my ability to go about my day without some selfish idiots riding loud bikes and ATVs on public streets and holding up traffic. Take that crap to some desolate area so people who don’t want to see this nonsense don’t have to.

      • You sound jealous as a MF. Your self loathing
        and low self worth is on full display honey. In case no one told you today; you are important and you matter. Now get yourself some good counseling.

    • But these idiotic teens blocking traffic are just fine just like the black extremists in DC who were yelling the most vile racist and homophobic slurs at everyone, nobody says one word about that because we are expected to treat black people like special retarded children. Act like an animal and expect to get treated like one

  8. If these fools started doing this stupid, annoying crap through my neighborhood and blocking traffic on top of that; yeah. I might say something they may find offensive too. What’s with people believing they can force their causes, protests and other general distracting behaviors onto others without consequence? Everybody has issues and others have the choice of caring or not. I’m all for standing for what you believe in; just don’t impede my lifestyle by doing it.

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