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Liberty Square sees jump in gangs and violence

admin | 3/1/2012, 4:30 a.m.

Officials call for partnership that includes community voices

Drive-by shootings and Black-on-Black crime have become second nature to the residents of Miamis Liberty Square a 753-unit public housing apartment complex often referred to as the Pork & Beans that stands as the oldest project for Blacks in the South. In just a two-month period near the end of last year, residents dealt with 13 shootings, officially making it the single-most dangerous area in the city. Now with three shootings since last Friday, police and community activists agree that the recent addition of more beat officers and surveillance cameras, while good ideas, were not enough to stem the violence. So what is the answer? We have found that while some tenants are causing problems in the Square, most of the situations ending in violence are because of people who are not on leases here often theyre visiting someone and bring along their friends or they are the adult children of tenants, said Major Keith Cunningham, who serves as the commander of the North District for the City of Miami Police Department an area that includes Model City, Little Haiti and the upper Eastside. When you have 10 families living here peacefully and one person violating the conditions of their lease and causing havoc, that individual puts everyone in the neighborhood at risk. Gang wars are leading reason for violence This community is being hit by a rash of gang violence Black-on-Black crime and its related to turf wars that continue to go one between rival gangs, he said. Drug sales remains an issue but thats not the biggest problem were facing. One thing that would certainly help would be tougher gun laws. We are dealing with kids as young as 13 who are carrying AK-47s and other assault rifles even handguns. Its not against the law to buy a gun and even those with a record find ways to get them. Cunningham confirms that bullets sprayed by an AK-47 operated by an unknown drive-by gunman, nearly ended the young lives of Ted Phillips,14 and his friend Antonio Miller, 11, who were playing outside with friends last Friday night The motive behind that shooting is still unknown but we realize it could have been much worse they could have been killed, he added. Were grateful the boys are expected to recover but we need help in finding the shooter(s). Another shooting happened early Sunday morning that appears to have been a fight over a girl. Weve beefed up patrols and taken a more aggressive approach but weve got to continue to be proactive in reducing the violence and the shootings. Teamwork and communication may be the best remedy Greg Fortner, 54, executive director for public housing and community development, Miami-Dade County, has teamed up with Cunningham in a partnership that includes public housing personnel, City of Miami police officers, lawyers from the state and county attorneys offices, and officials from the probation and parole departments. He says they are meeting regularly in order to share information and address concerns before, rather than after, violence erupts like it did last weekend. Our goal is to create a culture and environment where people feel safe, he said. Right now there is a lot of anxiety in the community and most are afraid that if they report what theyve seen or heard, that there will be some form of retaliation. Residents must feel safe enough to provide us with vital information. Housing intends on inviting the police to the positive events that go on in Liberty Square so that both sides people and residents feel more comfortable with each other. Were not there but we plan to get there and soon. Eric Thomson, 41, is the chairperson for the Liberty City Trust and serves as the liaison for the Liberty Square Council. He says hes been hoping for a more focused and effective partnership to be formed between all concerned parties for some time. Weve been asking for this for years a partnership between law enforcement, housing personnel and the residents, he said. I hope and pray that this is what we are finally going to see happen. There are a lot of good, honest people living in Liberty Square. They want to do their part to bring about change and make this a safer place to live and play. If the police want to have any success at all, its going to take the participation of the residents. In 2012, Liberty Square has had nine shootings with one fatality and one stabbing that resulted in the victim's death. By D. Kevin McNeir kmcneir@miamitimesonline.com