Letters from the Issue of August 29, 2002

One cop would rather resign than compromise his integrity

Teele Deal: I Say It's Criminal

Especially when Overtown is Third World poor:This is the first time I have written to New Times, but after reading Kirk Nielsen's article about Miami Commissioner Art Teele ("Teele's [Or]Deal," August 15) I felt compelled to do so. In times like these, during a war against terror and ignorance around the world, we need leaders who promote love and dialogue rather than divisiveness. It is simply wrong for Mr. Teele to call Miami the "most racist city." I have been all over this nation and I've found that Miami has many compassionate and giving people of all colors and races. Instead of hurting our image nationally and internationally, we should focus on positive things we can do to make our city better.

First we should not take tax money -- millions of dollars meant to revitalize Overtown -- and give it to cronies. When I ride through Overtown and see Third World poverty, I say it's criminal to use millions of dollars to build parking lots.

I have experienced firsthand how Mr. Teele operates, and saw how he used Community Redevelopment Agency funds to rob Overtown residents of the All Faiths Church of Divine Mission. That church was an institution, providing free meals and beds for hundreds of less fortunates. I was a member and had contributed thousands of dollars to keep it open. Mr. Teele and the CRA paid more than $250,000 to illegally purchase the church from the estranged family of the late Rev. Clennon King. The family did not own the church; the members of the church and the community owned the property.

Mr. Teele, you should do the right thing and resign. Your antics continue to divide our great city. You fought in Vietnam for your country just as I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King for peace and justice for all.

Leo Casino

Miami

Teele Deal: Can't Blame Him for Everything

The demise of Overtown is more complex:Overtown's current depressed state can't be attributed to just one politician or $10.6 million "spent" the same way most taxpayer money is wasted. To understand how Overtown got where it is today (a state of total disarray), one has to understand Overtown's history, Interstate 95, desegregation, the Civil Rights Act, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the growth of government-sector jobs.

Overtown came into existence in the late 1800s and was known as "colored town." This was where the black railroad workers were allowed to live. During the Twenties, Thirties, Forties, and Fifties Overtown flourished, housing many black-owned businesses, including restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, and attorneys' offices. Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Poitier, Muhammad Ali, and many other celebrities performed or stayed in Overtown while visiting Miami. During this time most property in Overtown was owned by blacks. In fact Dana Albert Dorsey, a black millionaire who lived in Overtown, made his fortune in real estate.

Why does Overtown resemble a war-torn Third World country today? In the Sixties some white folks decided that maintaining Overtown as a vibrant community was less important than building I-95 and I-395. The construction of these expressways divided Overtown and displaced many of its residents. On the bright side, around this same time the U.S. government rightfully decided to end government-sponsored segregation. This allowed blacks to move freely into neighborhoods that were once off-limits. Both desegregation and the expressways contributed to an exodus from Overtown.

Though probably launched with the best intentions by the Lyndon Johnson administration, the War on Poverty has claimed as casualties the very same people it was supposed to help. To make matters worse, today there is as much if not more poverty than at the beginning of this campaign. It has created an ever-growing dependent subclass reliant on the government for every facet of its existence.

Naturally all these government programs needed bureaucracies to administer them. This created a surge of growth in government jobs. Blacks were heavily recruited for these positions, which led to a huge drain on what had been a vibrant black entrepreneurial class. As a result black business and property ownership in Overtown is almost nonexistent today.

More than 30 years since its inception, the government's War on Drugs has not made a dent in drug sales or consumption. Despite this irrefutable fact, billions are spent each year on this "war." (In contrast, Prohibition, also a failure, was repealed more than 60 years ago.) Drug laws themselves had racist origins. Marijuana laws were originally passed to make Mexican immigrants more deportable; laws against cocaine were passed largely owing to bogus claims that the drug made black men more liable to rape white women.

These laws have attained their intended consequences. Blacks and Hispanics make up the majority of those arrested for drug offenses. Today in Overtown criminal gangs sell drugs on almost every corner and terrorize local residents. Black youths who lose their civil rights as a result of arrest and conviction also lose their right to vote, further eroding Overtown's power and influence in the electoral process.

So you see, it takes more than one politician and a misspent $10.6 million to destroy a vibrant neighborhood. The question then becomes: How do we fix it? The answer is complicated, beyond any politician or government's comprehension. Perhaps less government intrusion into people's lives, maybe more flexible zoning and land-use restrictions, or waived impact fees in severely depressed areas like Overtown could be solutions. In essence, less government influence, not more. Will these changes create justice and a perfect social order? Will they correct all the errors of the past? No. But they will go a long way toward reviving a Miami neighborhood and making it once again a great place in which to live, work, and be entertained.

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