Take down slums, not politicians like Michelle Spence-Jones
Uncle Luke, the man whose booty-shaking madness once made the U.S. Supreme Court stand up for free speech, gets as nasty as he wants to be for Miami New Times. Up this week, Luke assesses the latest criminal charges against his pal Michelle Spence-Jones and what he would do to fix Overtown and Liberty City.
Before Michelle Spence-Jones was re-elected and subsequently removed from office this past November, I asked her why she was even bothering with politics. Her answer was that she was determined to improve District 5, home to Overtown and Liberty City, the poorest neighborhoods in Miami. But I kept wondering if it was really worth it, because you have to be the pope to be commissioner in that district. That's a political hot seat on the Miami City Commission. I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole, because it seems every commissioner who wins that seat gets jammed up: Miller Dawkins. Arthur Teele Jr., who blew his head off. And now Spence-Jones, who is close to blowing her head off.
Why? Well, there is a lot of money that goes to Overtown and Liberty City. For example, Miami has a community redevelopment agency with a shitload of money. Everyone is trying to get their hands on that pot. So when the commissioner whose district includes the CRA starts making demands, that is when the crazy shit starts happening. Everybody I talk to tells me it is too much of a coincidence that the same week the judge in Spence-Jones's case was going to rule against Gov. Charlie Crist, they come out with some new criminal charges against her. I don't think Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is the one pushing the buttons. There is a political game going on here, and the governor is behind it.
The latest criminal charge against Spence-Jones is that she took a bribe from developer Armando Codina, who says he believed he was donating money to pay for a gala in honor of former County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler. If the gala went on, what's the problem? Given what has been reported in the Miami Herald, lawyers say it will be hard to prove Spence-Jones took a bribe. But in today's world, you're guilty before you're proven innocent. When criminal charges are filed against a public figure, the media comes at you in an intense way. You get tons of articles. You make the front page. But if you're proven innocent, you get a small blurb in the back pages. You are only innocent in your own mind and with your family.
So you have Spence-Jones focusing all of her energy trying to stay out of prison. But the real losers are the people of District 5. They live in the area with the highest crime rate and the highest unemployment rate. You have Liberty City looking like Beirut, and you have Overtown looking like Afghanistan. Nothing is done to get people jobs or provide a better way of life. And the sad part is that the solutions are really simple.
If I could speak to Mayor Tomás Regalado and the city commission, I'd lay out a plan to beautify Overtown and Liberty City. If your neighborhood looks like Beirut, people are going to run around shooting other people. But if it looks like Brickell Avenue, people will take pride in their neighborhood. Knock down all the slums. Tear all the shit down on 15th Avenue. Find money to redo the Pork 'n' Beans Projects. Make the place livable. Make NW Seventh Avenue into our Coconut Grove.
I remember there used to be a place called the 1040 Building on the corner of 62nd Street and Tenth Avenue. It was like the apartment complex where people sold and smoked crack in the movie New Jack City. Miami tore it down and built a police substation in its place. That was the best, most productive thing the City of Miami has ever done. People take pride in new shit. You improve the quality of life, and people will police themselves.
The city can eliminate a lot of crime in Overtown and Liberty City by providing more after-school care for kids. That is a major reason why the city needs to fix up parks in District 5. Then you have the facilities that can provide after-school care. You give these kids somewhere to go. You create a place for kids from these high-crime areas to go from the time they get out of school until it's time for them to go home. For example, Charles Hadley Park has a building that is supposed to be a senior citizen center, but every day it is overflowing with kids. They overrun the seniors. Hadley Park needs a gym and classrooms.
Overall, the city commission needs to work to rebuild District 5 instead of focusing so much on politically taking out that district's commissioner.
Follow Uncle Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.