More than a 120 people gathered last night at the Greater Holy Cross Missionary Baptist Church on NW 93rd Terrace to solve the problem of gun violence in Miami's black neighborhoods.
Miami's new mayor, Francis Suarez, and the city's assistant police chief, Jorge Molina, showed up. So did Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime and several representatives from the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. Two local police chiefs also arrived to discuss Miami New Times columnist Luther Campbell's five-point plan to save lives in one of the nation's most troubled areas.
But neither Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez nor the county's police director, Juan Perez, attended. In fact, although they were invited, they didn't even send representatives, Campbell said. "That was disrespect, plain and simple," he added.
"This is not the way to solve problems, not to show up in my community," said nonviolence advocate Tangela Sears, who moderated the discussion. "It was just unbelievable."
Sears said she invited both officials to the meeting. Gimenez had already agreed to attend a Martin Luther King Jr. event, but Perez gave her "some attitude," she said. (Campbell recently wrote a column calling for Perez's removal after the director allegedly cut back on police information-gathering in mostly African-American areas.)
In 2016, not long after a 6-year-old was killed on his way to buy candy, Campbell described a way to end gun violence. It including asking the federal government to play a bigger role in the community, enforcing strict sentencing requirements, offering vocational courses at inner-city high schools, involving the Miami-Dade Children's Trust, and asking local police to become more involved in neighborhoods.
"When Luke and I were kids, the police would come to parks to get to know people," remembers Sears, whose son was recently murdered in Tallahassee. "They don't do that anymore."
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Those assembled asked Monestime to follow up on a letter sent to Gimenez by Miami-Dade delegation chairman Kionne McGhee January 11 that called for creation of an emergency task force to be formed and creation of a "violence trust fund with $3 million to address the gun violence epidemic in Miami-Dade County."
Ironically, just a few days before the meeting and a few miles away, a Lyft driver was shot four times in the back after two men tried to taser him and steal his car.
Sears said she plans to set up another gathering around Valentine's Day at the same church to follow up on the meeting.
Said Campbell: "We aren't talking about the problem; we are talking about solutions. I guess that just makes them uneasy."