Donald Shockey believes everyone deserves to live in a clean neighborhood. When he lived in Miami Shores from 2001 to 2014, he didn't have much of an issue because, he says, that city's code-enforcement division was well funded and did a good job of making residents clean up their trash. But when Shockey moved into a home on NW 41st Street in the City of Miami in 2014, he says, he found a neighborhood in disarray.
"There are vacant lots that are constantly overgrown," he says. "Junk cars sitting there with no license plates. Just many, many blatant code and sanitation violations, and the neighborhood is very, very trashy as a result."
So Shockey began calling code enforcement to report his neighbors' violations. Then, this past weekend, he says, someone lit his car on fire.
On Friday, Shockey — the former vice mayor of Miami Shores — says he was sleeping when he heard a commotion outside. He walked out his front door to see a group of cops and fire trucks outside his home. He turned a corner to see his 2014 Chevrolet Cruze engulfed in 20-foot-high flames. Fire was shooting from all four wheel wells, he says.
"I'm 1,000 percent convinced it was retaliation," he tells New Times. "I'm also 1,000 percent convinced the City of Miami does a terrible job of code enforcement. And it turns out people don’t like code enforcement. The neighbors on my block are already furious with me."
Shockey is certain someone intentionally set his car ablaze, especially because this was the second time his car was vandalized this month. On March 1, he walked outside to find that someone had smashed a hole in the front passenger-side window and beaten ribbons of cracks into the windshield. He also says it was weird that his car alarm never went off.
"The windshield was intact, but you couldn't see through it," he says. "When you break into a car, you don't smash the windshield." Shockey says he paid to replace the glass, only for someone to torch his vehicle just nine days later.
As the car burned, he says, a few neighbors just stood and stared, and never said a word to him.
So Shockey called the cops and filed a report. He says the police have yet to formally declare the fire an act of arson, but he can't possibly see how the car could have burnt up on its own. He hadn't even driven it that day. He adds that his home is under police surveillance for the next 30 days.
He says he's now afraid for his safety. "I don't want this to become a whole 'people getting mad about gentrification' story," he says. "But I suppose a little bit of that is inevitable."
Shockey's neighborhood, Buena Vista, is in the midst of a massive gentrification fight, as the ritzy Design District's luxury shopping boutiques have marched farther into the neighborhood, rapidly raising property values. Shockey himself sits on the board of the Buena Vista Stakeholders Association, a neighborhood group dedicated to "enhancing the quality of life" in the area, helping community members connect with one another, and cleaning up garbage in the neighborhood.
"We try to be a superinclusive, nonelitist organization, not like a property owners' association that’s strictly focused on property values," he says. "I don't know if my perception is warped from living in Miami Shores for so long, but I think our neighborhood looks like shit."
However, his organization recently threw its support behind a controversial decision to build a large parking garage in the area — an idea that many longtime residents say will ruin the character of the neighborhood.
A few months after he moved into his new home, he says, he began emailing complaints to the city's code-enforcement bureau for everything from vacant lots and abandoned cars to one man across the street who had piles of garbage on his front lawn. (Shockey says he first cleaned up the man's trash himself with the help of some folks from his organization.)
But he admits the tactics upset his neighbors, especially when everyone found out the man with the trash on his property had been suffering from a long-term illness. Shockey says the people living near him were upset that he called the city instead of just walking up to the guy's front door.
"I don’t really go knock on people’s doors," he says. "But regardless, you just can’t have two tons of trash in your front yard."
Shockey seems aware that moving into a new area — one that's in a simmering gentrification fight — and snitching on his neighbors might not have been the best tactic to make friends. But he's adamant that his plan to clean up the neighborhood is meant to help everyone, not just the newcomers, enjoy the area.
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"Leaving a neighborhood dirty because the people there are poor is definitely the wrong thing to do," he says. In fact, he faults Miami Code Enforcement for not paying more attention to Buena Vista in general.
"What I want to see come out of this is more city attention toward cleaning up the neighborhood," he says. "We're trying to build on the positive things in the neighborhood that our organization is doing. I don’t want this neighborhood to be seen as the kind of place where this happens. I don’t want to be seen as a neighborhood of hate."
But it doesn't seem Shockey's recent tragedy has brought him any closer to his neighbors. In fact, he says no one has come forward to offer help since his car was flambéed.
"No one on my block has said anything since," Shockey says, "not one person. That's indicative of something, right?"