The Devil and Mr. Jones

Activist Leroy Jones battled personal demons and has emerged as a radical bent on black empowerment.

Jones's tangles with the law don't bother commissioners. "It probably gives him a greater degree of credibility on the street," Morales says. Adds Carey: "It's not every day someone gets out of jail and says 'I want to help.'"

To describe Jones, Max Rameau, who works at NANA, mentions an anecdote from Malcolm X's autobiography about a black man who memorized entire ledgers of numbers for bookies. His purpose was to avoid carrying incriminating slips of paper. "Malcolm concluded that if this guy had been white, he would have been able to take advantage of his natural abilities in our economic system. I see a lot of similarities with Leroy. He's got above-average intelligence, but because he grew up in a certain community and looked a certain way, he was undereducated and not able to live up to his potential -- until recently."

White contends Jones's beefs about law enforcement are wrong-headed. The government must focus on arresting criminals and creating employment at the same time. "Anybody who says 'I don't care about the murders, rapes, and aggravated assaults going on because these guys need jobs,' that is insane. What you're saying in effect is that we're going to hold hostage the whole community in Liberty City until we get jobs for these folks."

Adds Frank Boni, assistant director of investigative services for the Miami-Dade Police Department: "Certainly many of the people we interact with are victims of the system. ... But it's ridiculous to say we should cancel our enforcement efforts."

Savannah, Georgia, was a slow-moving Southern city when Leroy Ivory Jones was born there in September 1962. The doors of corner stores were left unlocked and shoppers took what they needed, then left money on the counter. But it was a hard place to be poor and black. Jones's father Jack died of diabetes when Leroy was about five, leaving behind his widow Ola and five children. When Jones was nine, the family moved to Overtown, where his mother thought job prospects would be better.

When Jones was fifteen years old, the family moved to a housing project called Larchmont Gardens in northwest Dade. The first time he went to play baseball in a nearby park, on the very first swing of his very first at bat, he hit a home run. He wasn't as good at football; the other kids called him "Slow Motion." But every day he went to that park after school.

Until it closed.
"There wasn't nothing for us to do except hang out on the corner," Jones recounts. They dubbed their spot at 84th Street and NW Fifth Avenue the "hole." One day someone brought some dice and they learned to gamble. Cops passing in their cruisers would slow down and eye them. Cautiously, the players would continue their game. For Jones it was all part of an interminable inner-city dance of suspicion: police watched them as they watched police.

Though the boys looked for work, they soon lost their zeal. They each took a nickname. "Carburetor," "Jim Dandy," "Money." Jones says he was called Paul but doesn't remember why. They started planning more than just dice games. At one point, Jones says, an Arab convenience store owner gave him a cheap, .25-caliber pistol as a gift. Jones put it in a sock in his closet.

"Me and an older gentleman got into a fight over his daughter, who liked me. He didn't want her to see me, saying I was trouble and all I did was stand on the corner. Well, we started arguing and he hit me. I was so angry I ran home to get my gun.

"My sister saw me walking out with it. And she told me, I remember it clear as day, 'Leroy, if you walk out that door with that gun, one of two things is going to happen: Either you're going to end up hurting that man or he's going to take that gun away from you and kill you. Somebody's going to get hurt and somebody's going to have to pay for it.' That made me stop and think, it really did. And I put it back." Jones says his mother later threw the weapon away.

At age sixteen Jones broke into a store. Police caught him in the parking lot and a judge sent him to a youth detention center for about a month. "That's when he was into the streets," remembers Renee Reddick, who dated Jones for a few months that year. "I had a very strict mom. She was not into that at all." Today Reddick and Jones are engaged.

Two years later, after dropping out of Miami Edison High School, Jones was caught trying to break into a house. A judge sentenced him to a year and a day. In prison, Jones says he learned to read, a skill he had not mastered at Edison. "I made it all the way to the twelfth grade and couldn't read a third-grade book."

After about six months in prison, Jones entered a work-release program as a laborer for a concrete company. Then he started drinking hard and freebasing cocaine. "I was a functional addict. I always paid my bills," he says. That doesn't mean he was happy. He kicked the habit after approximately five years in a haze. The end came as he watched TV one afternoon with his toddler sons, Orpheus and Pernell. "I was so high, I had cartoons on and they wouldn't watch the cartoons. They just kept watching me. They knew something was wrong," he recalls. "Right then I said, 'This is it, no more'."

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