- Faith & Family
Young people and guns are proving to be a lethal combination both here in Miami and across the nation. As recent as last Monday night, a 26-year-old Black male and recent college graduate, Kori Clark, was shot and killed in broad daylight outside of his El Portal home. The scene of the crime, NE 90th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues was riddled with so many bullet casings that Miami-Dade police had to use cups to mark the evidence. Just days earlier, a
young woman was caught in a crossfire and killed in Liberty City near NW 53rd Street and 12th Avenue. Neighbors say they heard at least 10 shots go off. Miami police attribute much of the criminal activity to unscrupulous young adults, many of whom are members of gangs that make their money on drug sales and will do whatever is necessary to maintain control. Even with a recent crack down on gun violence that derailed three drug-dealing organizations and resulted in the arrests of over 100 gang members, the shootings continue.
“We have had some cases on our radar for several years and know that violence in some neighborhoods is directly related to narcotics,” said Major Jorge Martin, Miami police. “We are working hard to get bad guys off the streets and those that were part of the arrests we just announced will most certainly be going to jail for a substantial amount of time.”
According to Martin while City of Miami homicide rates don’t come close to places like Chicago, which topped 500 last year, youth homicides are still a major concern. Homicide rates from 2009 thru 2012 climbed each year at 59, 68, 68 and 72, respectively. Miami Chief of Police Manuel Orosa says that we must get guns off the streets if we are to make our streets safer.
“We revised our strategy over the past several years to go after drug organizations — those doing the selling as opposed to the consumer,” he said. “The result has been the confiscation of a lot of illegal weapons, cash and obviously narcotics. The arrests that were recently announced were part of three long-term police investigations. But our work is far from over because as soon as we put one group away there are others waiting in the wings. We are hoping to get more funding so we can increase our prevention programs in our elementary schools. That’s the only way we can break this cycle and point youth in a different direction.”
Will gun buybacks
make a difference?
The City has planned gun buybacks at three local churches during the next three weekends. Sites include: Jordan Grove, Liberty City, Jan. 19; St. John, Overtown, Jan. 26; and San Juan Bosco, Little Havana; Feb. 2; all from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The question remains what impact, if any, these events will have given the record number of gun permit requests that were recorded in 2012 in Florida?
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, almost 800,000 background checks were requested last year — nearly 200,000 more than were requested in 2010 and double those requested in 2004. Some attribute the dramatic rise to speculation that stricter gun-control laws will soon be passed because of the Newtown shooting.
“We are facing a paradox when it comes to gun ownership,” Martin added. “You have the private side and the whole relaxation piece. Then you have those who purchase guns at private showings. From a law enforcement perspective, we deal with the bad guys, some of whom have legally purchased guns and many who have stolen weapons. In this tri-county area we are seeing more guns being stolen from homes, cars and even from police vehicles. Our focus isn’t on legal sales but rather the black market that allows guns to end up in the hands of those who are protecting drug holds and are shooting it out in the streets with their competition.”
Final thoughts from community leaders
Miami Gardens City Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, 40, says that we cannot afford to wait for a mass tragedy to strike here in Miami. He hopes to initiate conversation that will employ strategies targeting young adults, identifying some of their frustrations and then offering some solutions.
“You can’t come up with answers over night but we all can agree that economics is driving the rise in crime among young adults,” he said. “If they can’t find employment through legal means, many are moved to get money illegally and by any means necessary.”
For people like Tanaka Charles, 43, violence struck too close to home. Two years ago her son, Rashad Akeem Charles, was killed just five days before his 21st birthday. She has since founded an organization, A Mother’s Hurting Heart, to support parents and siblings who are facing similar tragedy. She says police need to be more sensitive, even if the young adult killed was on the wrong side of the law.
Vivilora D. Perkins Smith, program coordinator, Urban Partnership Drug Free Community Coalition, points to an increase in alcohol and marijuana use among youth as one of the factors contributing to the rise in violence.
“We know there are certain watering holes where underaged youth are drinking and using marijuana,” she said. “We need parents and guardians to pay more attention and we need more after-school programs. As for the gangs in Miami, they are much more sophisticated — we need strategies to stop them that are just as sophisticated.”
By Kevin McNeir