Messing With The Man

Miami-Dade's southwest suburbs could belong to Anywhere, U.S.A. Trade the royal palms for dogwoods and the Peruvian bakeries for Vietnamese diners, and you could mistake Kendall and the Hammocks for suburban D.C. or Chicago or LA. The same SUVs pull into the same strip malls anchored by the same chains (a Chili's and a Blockbuster, or maybe T.G.I. Friday's and Best Buy) and pull out loaded with DVD players or PlayStations, and 2.5 overfed kids, to the same chemically enhanced lawns and homes where someone hits power on the TV remote even before the door slams shut.

"It's fucking boring, bro," says Carlos, repeating the mantra of teens in his Southwest Miami-Dade neighborhood -- and everywhere. Eighteen and not interested in school, sports, or any particular career, Carlos still has something to prove -- he's just not sure what. He's the informal ringleader of a group of like-minded young men (all of whom begin and end every sentence with "bro" or "yo") who do the things that directionless kids do: They finagle ways to procure beer and liquor, buy and sell small quantities of marijuana, get in the occasional fight, get high. But most of all, they do nothing. They hook up with friends old enough to rent their own apartments, or they hang out at someone's house while the folks are away at work or on vacation. And there they play video games, talk shit, and watch endless television.

"Most of these kids who think they're badasses just get high, and play PlayStation as much as possible," says Miami-Dade Det. Charles Rego, who works in the Hammocks Division gang squad. Rego knows many of the would-be tough teens in the area on a first-name basis.

Simply put, suburban "gangstas" tend to be on the soft side. Not much big-time dealing or hard-core gang activity. So Miami-Dade County police were astonished when three wannabe Latin Kings mounted a bizarre and brash predawn assault on their Hammocks headquarters.

Around three in the morning last June 10, three teenagers -- sixteen-year-old Christian Muñoz, eighteen-year-old Adrian Garcia, and fifteen-year-old ringleader Joseph Muse -- hid behind the dense ficus bushes across from the two-story, beige police station at 10000 SW 142nd Ave., and gathered their nerve before launching their raid.

The Hammocks, as defined by the police, is a huge chunk of Southwest Miami-Dade, stretching westward to Collier County. But the district police headquarters sits in the center of a smaller area with the same name, a collection of neighborhoods that includes Arbor Courts, Place Royale, and Panache. The architecture of the area -- from Kendall Drive south to Coral Reef Drive, and from roughly 137th Avenue west to Krome Avenue -- reflects an economic spectrum ranging from upper-middle class to lower-middle class. Apartment complexes and gated townhouse communities abound, punctuated by clusters of single-family homes. A rural outpost as recently as a decade ago, the Hammocks has gone from predominantly Anglo and Cuban to thoroughly mixed, with fast-growing populations of Colombians and Peruvians.

On that humid June night, Garcia's and Muse's hands were moist as they switched on their two-way radios. Then, while Garcia stayed behind as lookout, Muñoz and Muse crossed 142nd Avenue, with the shadowy expanse of Kings Meadow Park to their right and the police lot's six-foot black chainlink fence to the left. They walked the 50-yard perimeter of the well-lit parking lot until, at the westernmost fence line, they hid behind clustered ficus and vines next to the fence. Then they waited for a cue from Garcia, and when it looked as though no police were lingering at the station's front doors and no patrol cars were arriving or leaving, he radioed that the coast was clear.

Muse and Muñoz pulled themselves up and over the fence, landing in a lot full of marked and unmarked police vehicles, along with employees' personal cars. They couldn't have been inside for more than fifteen or twenty minutes; according to the police, that's about how long the security cameras that scan the parking lot went unmonitored. Somehow in that span of time the teens managed to cause nearly $20,000 in damage to seventeen county vehicles and eleven private cars.

They set to work with a vengeance. One of the boys started in on the police cruisers. Crouching beside the cars, he took his knife and punched and slit the walls of heavy radial tires. Cars slowly sank as their tires deflated. Meanwhile the other teen dragged a key across the side panels of several cruisers and unmarked cars. Police say he sawed away at some of the panels with a knife or a key. No one stepped outside the station for a smoke or pulled into the lot for a shift change. If they had, they might have heard the grinding of metal on metal.

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Forrest Norman
Contact: Forrest Norman