You Ho Who You Are

Robberies and prostitution turn a street into a boulevard of broken dreams

NE Second Avenue is Biscayne Boulevard's back door. The gritty street snakes quietly through Miami alongside the main thoroughfare, occasionally catching spillover from Biscayne's midnight parade of low-rent hookers and penny-ante drug dealers. But the street has a split personality: From 20th to 54th streets at noon on any given weekday you'll see, interspersed with the occasional streetwalker, a neighborhood full of legitimate businesses where residents can do their laundry, gas up their cars, grab a bite to eat, or shop for food.

But the locals and business owners say their grip on the neighborhood is being wrested away by an influx of crime so relentless that some are packing up and leaving.

"Our neighborhood is being taken over by people dealing drugs and doing prostitution right out in front of everybody," says Alfredo Martinez. "I moved here from the Beach because I thought it would be safer, but I'm starting to reconsider." The 47-year-old music producer lives near 25th Street and NE Second Avenue (most of the people who spoke to New Times for this story didn't want to give the exact locations of their homes, for obvious reasons). Martinez says that the stretch of road that wends through Wynwood and Edgewater used to be relatively free of openly conducted crime. "This is a nice neighborhood -- a lot of families, a lot of kids," he says. "It's not the richest neighborhood in Miami, but it was pretty safe and pretty clean."

Residents say that the crime rate has risen drastically since late summer.

"It's gotten really bad over the last couple of months," says Angela Laino, owner of the Tree of Zion, the vegan snack shop and Rastafarian health food store. "We've had three car break-ins and three bikes stolen. I know there will always be some crime, but it's gotten so blatant. The other day, at the gas station on 26th Street, I saw a guy pick up a hooker in the parking lot, do his thing, pay her, and she got out and walked away. This was at 11:00 a.m."

For about five blocks, the avenue runs, well-lighted and clean, through the Design District's eastern edge. But where the galleries end, so does the good lighting. The crime, from petty to violent, then picks up where it left off. No one knows this better than Bridget Norgaard, owner of Teresita Supermarket on NE Second Avenue at 46th Street, which was robbed of $56,000 on November 26 (the store also has a busy check-cashing window). Television news reporters showed up to interview the devastated Norgaard. As soon as the TV crews left, someone robbed a car in the market's parking lot. "I know of other store owners who go around armed with Tasers," says Norgaard, who has owned the market since January. "The problem is, any decent person would think for a second or two before shooting someone. That's all the time it would take for a criminal, unburdened by conscience, to do him in."

"I'm a sculptor so I loved living near the Design District, but after the last couple of months, I had to move out," says Carolina (who did not want her last name published). She moved to Miami Shores after the robbery at Teresita's and a series of armed robberies of other businesses and individuals. In addition to the market, two of her neighbors were held up at gunpoint (one escaped harm, one lost his truck) and burglars tried to get into her neighbor's house -- four times. They succeeded twice, but the house was occupied the other two times. "I lived alone, so I don't know if I would have been able to scare them away like my neighbors did," she says. "What if they'd come in anyway?"

At this point, says Angela Laino, anything not nailed down is in danger of being stolen. "We have these big planters in front of the store, and in the last week people have started ripping the plants out," she complains.

Martinez, Laino, Norgaard, and Carolina blame Miami police for not doing a good job of monitoring the area. "There should be more light and more police," Carolina says. "It seems like I see them in the Design District."

Laino is more direct: "If it's this blatant, and the police are not doing anything, they must not care very much. I'm sure they could use more money and more equipment and everything else, but some of this stuff is right out in the open. You have to figure they could do something about it."

"I kept complaining to the police officers I saw," says Carolina. "Eventually, one of them told me that the best thing to do was to move out."

Commander Bobbie Meeks oversees the police patrolling the Wynwood/Edgewater district.

"We had four police officers per shift in the Wynwood/Edgewater district, but last month we did increase it to five," he says, adding that he has noticed an increase in homeless people and drug dealers. "With that comes an increase in larcenies," says Meeks. "But it's not just along that one street -- it's all over Wynwood."

 
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