An Informed Public Is an Empowered Public
Free weekly cheerfully does its part: Two fine articles in the June 14 edition of New Times prove once again that your paper plays an important role in informing the public. Jacob Bernstein's article on outgoing ACLU president John de Leon ("It Takes a Cuban") and the column by Jim DeFede about Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver ("Shadow Dwellers") are prime examples of well-written, thoughtful delineations of important issues in South Florida. Congratulations.
Commissar Katy and Her Little Weasel of a Henchman
You vill absolutely do as vee say or else! Jim DeFede's "Shadow Dwellers" makes it obvious that no opposition will be tolerated to the stand taken by Mr. DeFede and Commissioner Katy Sorenson regarding Homestead Air Force Base. The commissioner has spoken! She knows what is best! This attitude carries with it the sound of jackboots. New Times is becoming a one-issue paper: Destroy Steve Shiver.
As for Mr. DeFede, as Alexander Pope put it: "All seems infected that the infected spy, as all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye." Is Mr. DeFede a lying little weasel? Absolutely, absolutely.
Benedicta M. Harris
South Beach Manifesto: We Just Share Space Over Here
SoBe as melting pot? I don't think so: Tristram Korten's article "South Beach as Thug Central" (June 7) inspired me to write this letter to present a somewhat different perspective. Over the Memorial Day weekend Miami Beach hosted Urban Fashion Week and parties promoted by top hip-hop and rap performers. Young people, both black and white, congregated on South Beach for what promised to be a great weekend, in spite of the weather. The majority of people were just here relaxing, shopping, eating, having a good time, and bringing tremendous revenue to the city. Unfortunately all the publicity was negative and only concerned the violent incidents that occurred.
As a New Yorker recently relocated to Miami Beach, let me say that I am no stranger to street violence, demonstrations, riots, civil disturbances of all kinds, and cops in riot gear. I've seen army tanks on the street (in lower Manhattan, trying to evict building squatters) and helicopters swooping down on a crowd (at the Million Youth March in Harlem in 1998). My take on crowd control is that the control varies with the color of the crowd.
No one in any community condones or supports drive-by shootings, stabbings, or lawless and violent behavior. That is obvious. But consider for a moment what happened Memorial Day weekend in the context of the history of South Beach. Consider whether the reaction would have been the same if the crowd had been predominantly white and favored a different kind of music.
According to my limited knowledge of the area, blacks at one time were not even allowed to visit Miami Beach. Ultimately they were permitted to visit for two limited purposes, both of them to serve the white community in some way: either to clean their houses or to entertain them. Blacks were required to carry ID cards while here. So why would black people want to come here now? For tourists it's the same reason as anyone else: to enjoy the weather, the sea, to shop, relax, go out and have a good time.
The bottom line is money. Events are promoted here as a way to bring in revenue. The planners and merchants on South Beach know that, per person, the black community spends more money than any other community regardless of income level. That translates into a lot of money for the hotels, restaurants, shops, and clubs. The comments made by some business people after the weekend were fundamentally racist in nature, accusing the crowd of being part of a culture of violence. But no one hesitated to take their money, did they? If the business community only wants to take money from white or European people because they think they behave better, then so be it. But they can't have it both ways.
Or was it just that the weekend fulfilled every white person's worst fears and stereotypes about black youth? Yes, the crowd was loud and rowdy, and the violence was inexcusable. But for the most part people were here just having a good time, and they were justifiably disappointed when they were turned away from parties they had planned to attend. Because they're black, however, they are judged more harshly. If the crowd had been white, the New Times article would not have used the phrase "thug central."
Contrary to the claims made in the article, hip-hop is not a "big black phenomenon." If Tris Korten had been paying attention, he would have noticed that white kids, particularly suburban kids, follow hip-hop performers in droves. The popularity of rap and hip-hop as music and forms of communication crossed color lines a long time ago. In addition the characterization of the Memorial Day crowd as "black culture at its most assertive" is oversimplified and patronizing. There is no monolithic black culture any more than there is a monolithic white culture in this country.
The meeting of the city's planning board following the weekend were hardly "racially coded," as the article stated. The board members said very directly that they want to make the city more "selective in events." To me that says they didn't mind making money from the black folks while they were here, but they don't want them coming back.
Some members of the planning board spoke of the melting pot you find here in South Beach, where people from different races mingle freely. This is not a melting pot, and people don't mingle. They merely walk on the same streets together. If you pay attention you'll see that most public events are segregated by race, ethnic background, or sexual identity. It's actually a lot of people just sharing the same space but not involved in activities together.
What does the future hold? I can't predict that, but this city has a long way to go toward making all people feel truly welcome and creating a true melting pot. How about a more diversified planning board with guest representatives to discuss the promotion of various events and with input from various communities, not just the ones living here in South Beach, mostly white and Latin. At the very least the city must play fair and treat all visitors equally. Deal appropriately with those who disturb the peace and treat all others with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Try Out This: Tottering Tyrant
The bearded one and his affectionate nicknames: When I was a young Cuban American I too enjoyed the comedic genius of Guillermo Alvarez Guedes ("Cuba's Jackie Mason," June 7). But I cannot believe that Lissette Corsa in her article referred to Fidel Castro as "president." There has never been a free and democratic society that voted for him as president. He is a dictator. We should all refer to him as the comediante en jefe. Or better yet, communist killer. That is much more suitable than president.
Someone There Is Who Doesn't Love a Wall
In which San Francisco puts Miami to shame: I was simultaneously amused and ashamed after reading Kirk Nielsen's article "Pooch Putsch?" (May 31). But I wasn't surprised. Is the $30,000 Ralston Purina gave to the City of Miami really worth it in light of the divisiveness caused by the dog fence in Coconut Grove's Blanche Park? I haven't seen the fence but I have seen the Kennedy Park fence that separates people from pets. A park is no place for a fence.
When I visit my friends in San Francisco, who live next door to Dubose Park, my morning routine is to take my coffee out to the park and sit on a bench and watch the dogs run and fetch while children run with them or play on playground equipment. Adults, children, and dogs of all races, cultures, and breeds all get along with no ugly fences.
The Dubose Park neighborhood consists of three-and four-story apartment buildings. Lots of people and cars, even a busy trolley line, run right by the park -- and still no ugly fences. Dogs and children don't run into the busy streets. I can't help imagining what these two parks say about their cities and how different they are. Miami is divisive. San Francisco is together and friendly.
So how about it, Miami? Let's tell these corporations like Ralston Purina to butt out of our business and leave us alone. Give them back their money and tell them to stick the cash and their ugly fence where the sun don't shine.
$18 Million Is a Mere Drop in the Bucket
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A truly professional daily newspaper would have known that: As a community-development professional and an avid reader of New Times, I was appalled at the lack of journalistic standards shown in Susan Eastman's recent article "With Enough Money" (May 24). Conclusions were drawn that were not substantiated by the facts presented.
No independent community-development professional was quoted or even consulted in drawing the article's conclusions. Had a professional been consulted, New Times would have learned that $18 million will not make West Perrine "look like a country club," as absurd a comparison as that is. And one should not "expect this one square mile of Miami-Dade to shine as a beacon of vibrant growth, smart planning, and snappy design." Unfortunately revitalizing low-income communities requires much more funding than that outlined in the article.
While I don't expect from New Times the journalistic standards of a major daily newspaper, I do expect more than something out of a gossip tabloid. If that is your chosen genre, then you should stick to the personal lives of celebrities and stay away from serious issues like community development. There may or may not be improprieties or inefficiencies at the West Perrine Economic Development Corporation led by Ed Hanna. But the facts presented in Ms. Eastman's article are inconclusive. By failing to present an informed picture of community development, she has damaged low-income communities in South Florida and the legitimate efforts to revitalize them. Shame on her.