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To most people in Miami, the name Miller Dawkins sounds just a little dirty: like street tacos or the infamous Rick Santorum. But to residents of Liberty City, Dawkins remains a hero more than 13 years after he pleaded guilty to using his position as city commissioner to extort $200,000 from a company trying to do business with the City of Miami.
In fact, so popular is the ex-con that several Liberty City landmarks are still named after him. A small municipal park on NW Eighth Avenue at 47th Terrace still bears Dawkins's name, as does an Olympic-size swimming pool in nearby Hadley Park.
What do his old constituents think? It seems there is a generational divide between those who remember what Dawkins did for the neighborhood before heading to jail for two years in 1997 and those who don't.
"Fool went to jail? That's messed up," 17-year-old Jamall Senat says as he sits on a bench in Miller J. Dawkins Mini Park. "If his name is on the park, he's supposed to be a leader or something. How's he going to go to jail?"
But not everyone thinks the park's name is a bad thing.
"We honor people for the good work that they have done in our neighborhood," says Eric Thompson, chairman of the Liberty City Revitalization Trust, located inside Miller J. Dawkins Pool Complex. "If he's done good work here in Miami for poor and black residents of Liberty City, then I think we need to focus on that instead."
Should the park keep its name? "Yeah, definitely," Thompson quickly shoots back.
So far, it seems no one has proposed changing the name of the park, which was called East Bay Vista Park. But the process is simple, says Lara DeSouza, a spokeswoman for Miami's Department of Parks and Recreation.
"Generally, a resident who doesn't like the current name approaches their commissioner and complains," she says. "Then the commissioners can vote on it."
There was no shortage of suggestions from a group of kids hanging out in the park last Friday.