By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
It's late Saturday night when Doo pulls the pump shotgun out of its hiding place. A bare bulb illuminates the gun's short barrel, ventilated with several holes to cool it during repeated firing. The stock is polished wood. The barrel is painted a dull olive green. A tiny plaque on the stock reads "Made in Argentina." Doo, all of nineteen years old, holds the weapon carefully, the barrel pointing down.
He's standing in the garage of the house at 1024 NW 38th St., a squat gray stucco building on the ragged eastern edge of Allapattah. The gun was brought over to the house, Doo notes, because a rival group from another neighborhood has been issuing threats to him and his mates, who call themselves, among other things, the 38th Street Crew. Just a week ago the two groups exchanged shots outside 1024, which the 38th Street Crew uses as informal headquarters.
To the neighbors of 1024, it comes as no surprise that a young man would be cradling a shotgun and talking gang war. This, they say, is what they've been living with for years.
Welcome to anarchy in Allapattah.
It's a sunny February afternoon and the black Lincoln Town Car, burnished to a glint in the sunlight, is rolling east down NW 36th Street. Behind it are two City of Miami police cars and half a dozen civilian vehicles. The procession is making its way past the watered lawns and pruned tamarind and lime trees of the black working-class neighborhood known as Allapattah, which lies between Liberty City and the Miami River. At Tenth Avenue the Lincoln and its escort turn left. The cars make another left onto 38th Street and ease to a stop by the dirt curb in front of 1024. An aide opens the Lincoln's rear door and out pops Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, wearing a blue blazer over a checked polo shirt.
"So this is it," he says, eyeballing the place. A smashed front window is visible from the street. Two disabled cars rest on the concrete driveway next to a faded blue motorboat perched on a trailer. A sagging chainlink fence encloses the property. This is another neighborhood, almost, from the tidy white houses with flower beds and fruit trees west of Eleventh Avenue. Here, the streetlights have been fitted with bulletproof covers. The lamps arc over graffiti spray-painted smack in the middle on the street that reads "Trey 8 St. Souljahz." A police sergeant and lieutenant stand nearby, along with some of the local residents whose pleas brought the mayor to this spot.
Suddenly the front door of 1024 opens and a cluster of teenage boys amble out wearing an assortment of baggy shorts and T-shirts, track suits, and brand-new high-tops. They startle at the throng that greets them and, with a certain ruffled adolescent cool, hustle down the street. No words are exchanged. The cops glare at the kids; the residents behind them move about nervously.
"The thing is, with a crowd of people you can't get a feel for what's going on," Suarez mutters to an aide. "We'll have to come back later."
It's fair to say that 1024 does not receive regular mayoral visits. The police cars accompanying Suarez, however, know the address all too well. According to police, the house is home base to an increasingly organized burglary ring, the members of which they have dubbed the "Mitsubishi Boys" because of their proclivity for the cars with fast pickup. Members use the stolen cars to bust into stores, either driving through the front gate or ripping the gate off with a chain attached to the car. On the street it's known as a "smash and grab."
This loose confederacy has been around for years. At least ten of the core group have juvenile criminal records, according to a detective familiar with them. But recently the crew's profile has risen considerably. Police believe the Mitsubishi Boys are responsible for knocking off a string of gun shops around the city and county and selling the guns on the street. At least twelve stores in Miami-Dade have been hit in the past three months. Four Miami heists netted some 40 weapons, ranging from Glock 9mm automatic pistols to AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifles.
To local residents the mayor's visit is a nod to their growing frustration, but a largely ceremonial nod. The boys have long terrorized the neighborhood, they say. Lately it's gotten worse. Gunfire crackling through the night has turned their pocket of Allapattah into a free-fire zone. The police have been unable to make the problem go away.
What makes the situation even more frustrating for neighborhood residents is that, for the most part, the teens who hang out at 1024 aren't hiding who they are and what they're about. They may call themselves by a different name than do police, but they don't dispute that crime is their business. The attitude of a young man who goes by the handle Black is typical of his comrades. He says of the police: "Hell yeah, they getting a run for their money. They can't catch up."
So it's common knowledge that this is the house where they gather. It's where police go looking for them. It's where neighbors hear gunfire routinely. And it happens to be where Connie Anguiera lives.