British Tabloids Call Overtown a "Hellhole" and "Heroin- and Gun-Crime-Ravaged Ghetto"

When planning the city, Miami's then all-white city government forced early black residents into a segregated area known as "Colored Town." Over time, that area grew into Overtown — a thriving community that attracted local black artists, politicians, and celebrities. But in the 1960s, local officials decided to cram a I-95 highway overpass smack in the middle of the neighborhood, permanently tanking the area's property values and plunging it into poverty. Housing discrimination and racist policing have further pushed Overtown into poverty, but residents still take pride in their neighborhood, which contains more history than almost any other part of Miami.

Zero of those actual historical points made it into the British tabloids The Daily Star and The Sun, which published articles about Overtown yesterday. Instead, the Daily Star explained to readers that David Beckham has chosen to locate his new Major League Soccer franchise in a "Miami hellhole" and "bullet-riddled gang ghetto" where the streets are "lined with crack-addled prostitutes selling their wares in the dirty district." (In a August 2017 post, the same Star reporter labeled Overtown a "crack ghetto.")

Not to be outdone, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sun published a companion piece labeling Overtown a "heroin- and gun-crime-ravaged ghetto" that is "known for its out-of-control opioid problem with junkies dying in its bullet-riddled streets."

For what it's worth, Overtown does struggle with drug abuse and gun violence, but its impossible to write honestly about those issues without addressing poor urban planning and decades of racist housing policies. But the summations here from the Star and Sun barely bother to flirt with basic factual accuracy: The Star quoted anonymous insiders who say Beckham has been advised to bring a "personal gun guard" with him to games, which might be true (British tabloids are notorious for making stuff up) but would probably be necessary if someone as famous as Beckham were to travel anywhere in public.

The paper also reported that "local councillors have demanded he comes up with a detailed security plan to ensure the safety of fans." There's no public record of this supposed demand. It's true that county and city cops are squabbling over which department will score the lucrative deal to patrol the area during games, but that's the closest detail resembling an alleged "Overtown security plan" to protect would-be soccer fans from drug-crazed maniacs.

The Star story also seems to have intentionally misrepresented gunshot data the Miami Herald published in 2016: The Star wrote that "8,300" bullets were fired in Overtown from 2015 to 2016, but that data appears to come from a Herald story about gunshot-detection data in three neighborhoods: Overtown, Little Haiti, and Liberty City. The words "three neighborhoods" were in the headline of the Herald story, so it's hard to believe the erroneous information was a simple mistake on the Star's part.

The rest of both stories devolve into racism porn: The Star's claim that Overtown is littered with "crack-addled prostitutes" simply isn't true, and the Sun went as far as to publish a slideshow of cops arresting and/or beating Overtown residents without any added context. The Sun even included an image of a burning car — except the photo was taken in 1989, when residents rioted after police killed two fellow residents that year.

It's also unfair to paint the neighborhood as "drug-addled" without much more context: Another Herald story the Star attempted to cite noted that wealthy, white, and Hispanic opioid addicts are actually visiting Overtown to buy drugs after getting hooked on prescription pills elsewhere. It's worth noting the Star and Sun don't tend to write about white drug abuse with the same sense of abject terror — the papers apparently want U.K. readers to assume Beckham is building a stadium surrounded by drug warlords.

Overtown is also already gentrifying rapidly, to the point that county officials suggested Amazon build its shiny second headquarters in the neighborhood. And Beckham's stadium site borders the Miami River, which is so quickly becoming a hipster destination that the New York Times took note over the weekend.

There's an obvious, factually accurate angle that tabloids could exploit if they so choose: Overtown residents don't really want Beckham there. At all. A petition campaign is going around to block the stadium, and residents keep telling local newspapers (such as New Times) that the stadium is a dreadful idea for them. Where are the "Beckham Ruins Black Neighborhood!" or "Becks Steamrolls Poor" headlines in the U.K.? It's apparently more fun for the British tabloids to kick poor black people around.

New Times messaged Daily Star reporter Andrew Jameson to ask what sparked the story, why he insists on reducing residents to racist caricatures, or whether he's actually been to Overtown, Miami, or America in general. He has yet to respond.

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