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The denizens of a vacant lot in Overtown, as is their style, pulled up an old couch and a few milk crates, popped open some cold ones, and warmed their chilling digits over a fire that smoldered in a soot-stained trash barrel.
Timothy Young of the Miami Police Department, as is his style, rousted the squatters from their perch. He gathered their furniture into a pile, and then he kicked over the barrel. The sofa caught some embers and burst into flames. And even though the fire department extinguished the blaze, the fires of conflict between Officer Young and the residents of this bleak ghetto have burned ever since.
"He's just a nasty officer," says 36-year-old Shelly Oliver, sitting under a shade tree and drinking Magnum malt liquor on the lot at the intersection of NW Second Avenue and Eleventh Street, where the fire started one month ago. "He'll arrest anybody and everybody. He'll arrest them just for kicks, just for no reason. People cannot stand on the corner when he comes around."
Not only the homeless are complaining. Edward King pays $225 a month to live behind iron bars above the squash-color Dania Grocery Store, kitty-corner to the lot. Young, he insists, has accused him and his relatives of crimes based not on fact or observation but on their mere association with the bad neighborhood. "He told me that my sister was soliciting. Just by standing here she was soliciting," King cries, pointing at the sidewalk in front of his apartment. "He tells me and my sister we have to get off the street. A person can't even stand on the corner."
So strong is the anger pulsing through the neighborhood that residents say Young jeopardizes his own personal safety every time he cruises down NW Second Avenue shouting orders over his squad car's bullhorn.
"He's on death row," says 23-year-old Mark Smith. "Shit. If he got hit by a bullet here, they'd take his gun, they'd take his walkie-talkie, and then they'd just leave him here to die. Ain't nobody going to help him." Smith opens a Heineken, takes a sip, and spits it on the ground. "That's how much hate people have for him."
Attempting to fight the fire is Miller Dawkins, the Miami City Commission's lone black member. Earlier this month, in response to citizen complaints about Young, Dawkins led a city delegation to the intersection. Joining him were commissioner Joe Carollo, City Manager Cesar Odio, and Miranda Albury, the administrator of the city's Overtown Neighborhood Enhancement Team Service Center. Also present were several police officers, including the alleged rogue.
While Dawkins strove for dialogue, the residents threw verbal barbs at Young. "I don't understand how a brother can treat his fellow brothers that way," shouted one man. "He actually calls himself the black Mark Fuhrman," added another. "That kills me. He actually says that."
Young calmly weathered the attacks. He did not respond to the Fuhrman charge but did observe that ill will is sometimes a byproduct of solid police work. "When you try to clean things up, some people get angry," he said, adding that the residents wouldn't have problems with him if they didn't have problems with the law. "They don't want to move, or they don't want to do anything," he explained. "They don't want to listen to the rules."
Odio encountered that same stubbornness. The city manager, standing beside Dawkins, reminded the protesters of existing laws against loitering and trespassing. He told them that while Young must enforce those laws, Odio could lead them to whatever assistance they needed. "Do you want to go to a shelter?" he inquired. "I can get you in there."
The response was unfavorable. "I know what he's talking about," spat one woman. "He's talking about the Salvation Army, isn't he? Ain't no way I am going to go to the Salvation Army, or Camillus House. I don't want to go to no shelter."
Though the woman's tirade earned cheers from her friends, it did not fully explain the complaints about the officer. A young man named Jeff (who was afraid to divulge his last name) said his beef with Young goes beyond mere law enforcement. "He has to do his job just like everybody else does. It's the way he does his job. If you catch a guy doing something, bring him to jail. But to harass him if he is standing out here?" Jeff paused, exasperated. "If a person is selling drugs, catch him selling drugs. Take him to jail. But don't accuse him of selling drugs when you don't have any proof that he's doing a crime."
Dawkins, who listened patiently to every complaint, refused to fan the flames by speculating about Young's professional acumen. "The police department is responsible for monitoring and approving or disapproving the actions and behavior of Officer Young as he performs duties assigned," he diplomatically sidestepped.
A fourteen-year veteran of the Overtown beat, Young enjoys the solid support of the police department. His annual reviews consistently rank him as "above average," with good problem-solving skills and even a decent relationship with the community. Tucked in his personnel file is an officer-of-the-month award, as well as a commendation for delivering free turkeys on Christmas day.
Neither Young nor Albury responded to follow-up calls requesting comment for this story. The officer remains on death row patrol, serving the people who congregate in the vacant lot, the same people who demand that he change his ways. "He is a nasty officer," repeats Shelly Oliver.
"He overdoes his job," adds Mark Smith, putting down his beer and glancing at the burned couch, which seems almost to be smoldering still. "He makes people want to hurt him.